By Denise Koch

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. Many become addicted after a doctor prescribes the drugs for a medical condition.

The Anne Arundel Health System just completed a study on how opioid drugs are prescribed. What they found concerned them, and is leading to change.

More than 1,000 people a day are treated in emergency rooms for misusing opioid drugs. In Baltimore, the opioid fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than heroin, is a common killer.

“There are more people dying from overdose here in Baltimore city than are dying from homicide,” said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

“I believe this qualifies for epidemic. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration of the word epidemic,” said Dr. Barry Meisenberg.

An epidemic that, many times, begins when a doctor legitimately writes a prescription.

But, there are no national guidelines as to how much to prescribe for different procedures.

Anne Arundel Health System’s task force surveyed doctors and found some were prescribing 10 times more than another for the same procedure.

So they started a program to cut prescription doses and look for alternatives to fighting pain.

“We have piloted that program and found that the patients have appreciated the extra efforts to their own safety, and tolerated much less opioid than we used to prescribe,” Dr. Meisenberg said.

Since 1999, sales of opioid drugs quadrupled in the U.S., as did deaths from overdoses.

Anne Arundel’s pilot program led to a 40 percent reduction in overall opioid prescription from January to July.

“At the same time, recognizing opioids are one of the most important and helpful class of drugs ever invented, so we’re trying to thread the needle here and I think, so far, we’ve had some success,” Dr. Meisenberg said.

Many other hospitals and medical systems in the state are also working to establish opioid guidelines realizing it’s a problem they helped create.

Ultimately, Anne Arundel Health System’s goal is to reduce opioid prescriptions by 50 percent over the next two years.

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