October 22, 2021

Teen drug use down

Hospital emergency department opioids cut in half

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland Regional Medical Center chief medical officer Dr. Russ Firman talks with emergency room staff Tuesday. The hospital emergency department has cut in half its prescriptions for opioids in the past year.

Opioid deaths in Cortland County increased to 13 last year from eight in 2016, state data show, but among youths, drug use has dropped.

Cortland Area Communities That Care surveys seventh through 12th graders in four of the five school districts each year, said Matt Whitman, director of Cortland Area Communities That Care. “To assess their drug use and other risk protective factors,” he said during the Aug. 21 Common Council meeting.

At Cortland Regional Medical Center, practices within the emergency department have helped lower the number of opioid prescriptions given to patients.

Around 1,400 students were surveyed and the results show that drug use remains historically low among the students. Countywide, lifetime use of prescription pain relievers not prescribed was 3.3 percent; 30-day use of prescription drugs without a prescription was 1.6 percent.

“It varies from year to year a little bit, but in general it’s at the lowest points than in the last 16 years since we started doing it (the survey),” Whitman said.

High school seniors have a significantly lower rate of alcohol and other substance use than in the past 16 years, the study showed. “They were very, very healthy,” Whitman said.

Four drug-use prevention strategies are used through Cortland Area Communities That Care:
• Providing information andeducation.
• Reducing access.
• Prescriber education.
• Working with law enforcement.

Across Cortland County, opioid prescriptions have dropped 8 percent between 2016 and 2017, Whitman said. “We’re moving in the right direction in reducing access.”

Watch for this

Watch for these signs of opioid abuse:
• Changes in attitude and personality.
• Changes in friends.
• Avoiding contact with family.
• Isolation and secretive behavior.
• Moodiness and irritability.
• Stealing.

Physical signs of opioid abuse:
• Loss or increase of appetite.
• Unexplained weight loss or gain.
• Small pupils.
• Nausea, vomiting, sweating and shaky hands.
SOURCE: Rotary International

Dr. Russell Firman, the chief medical officer at Cortland Regional Medical Center, is around six years in to reducing the number of opioids he prescribes.

He started with the emergency department, limiting the prescription options to 15 pills from 30. “We cut down pills going out the door,” Firman said.

Between 2016 and 2018 the total number of opioid prescriptions leaving the emergency department went down by 50 percent, Firman said. “It’s a great start toward getting the pills off the shelf,” he said. Other parts of the hospital are looking at ways to cut the number of opioids they prescribe, as well, Firman said, but he did not have statistics.

Besides cutting the prescriptions in half in the emergency department alone, Firman said the hospital has also offered more educational materials to patients. Cortland Regional is also looking into getting a drop box for unused prescriptions, like boxes at the Cortland Police Department, Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, Homer Police Department and SUNY Cortland Police Department.

While Firman would like to see the amount of opioids prescribed continue to fall, some prescriptions still need to be filled.

The next step, Firman said, is to close the time gap between treating addiction at the hospital and getting patients into rehab. “The next phase in the emergency department is how to help those (people) actively addicted,” he said.