HAYWARD, WI –In 2016 alone 1,261 people died of opioid overdoses in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Experts say the drug crisis has only grown worse since.
Experts and lawmakers have come forward with countless ideas on how to fight back and save lives.
But one northwest Wisconsin hospital is trying something unique. Something Dean Linder wishes existed 20 years ago when opioid addiction nearly took his life.
“It started impacting everything. The whole world came crashing down.” That’s what Dean Linder says about his experience with opioid addiction.
Linder works at Duluth Bethel as a Drug Counselor, but just two decades ago the roles were reversed. He struggled to keep his life together while battling an addiction that many know all too well.
“Back in the late 90’s I was diagnosed with migraines and cluster headaches and right off the bat they put me on Oxycontin,” Linder explained. Oxycontin is a form of Oxycodone, a strong opioid that helps mask severe pain.
He says it provides “an instant gratification, but the more need came a couple of months down the road.”
Linder was prescribed the narcotic for two years steady causing him to become highly dependent on the drug. He says, “I didn’t need them anymore as much as I wanted them.”
After the insurance company caught on to Linder’s addiction and stop allowing him to access the drug, he took matters into his own hands. “As far as legal wise, it got to the point of honestly I can tell you that I was embezzling money to be able to get more Oxycontin.”
The former addict says, January 17th, 2001 is the day his life hit rock-bottom. “The legal issues started to come into effect, I was released from my job. Family was falling apart, not paying things. It’s like everything just completely disintegrated in front of my eyes.”
Opioids produce a sense of well-being or euphoria that can be addictive to some people. The drugs are legitimately used for treating pain but many people develop a dependency. One Hospital in Wisconsin is changing the way they manage patient pain in their emergency room to help curb the crisis.
“Trying to do our part to eliminate or at least minimize the use of opioids or misuse of opioids is really what created the impetus to move forward with the ALTO project,” says Luke Beirl, CEO of Hayward Area Memorial Hospital.
ALTO meaning “alternative to opioids” is a new initiative ER staff at the Hayward hospital launched last month. It offers substitute pathways to treating acute pain to patients that come through their ER.
Dayle Quigley, ER Medical Director says, “there’s nothing that says you can’t use an opioid. What is says is lets try to use something else that may be every bit effective.”
There are six major groups that classify Opioids which include Codeine, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone, and Fentanyl.
There are also six major complaints the hospital will be offering other medications for other than opioids. Medications such as ibuprofen, muscle relaxant, and acetaminophen.
Quigley says “the goal is if you have ten patients come in, and in the past, those ten patients would have got an opioid. Now we take those and we give an alternative and you give the alternative and only… four of that ten need an opioid… you have saved six people from being exposed to an opioid.”
Hayward’s ER is following a proven successful protocol established by a Colorado hospital that saw a reduction of 36% of opioid use in its first year.
Changing behavior and changing prescribing practices is never easy but like any high-quality health care provider, we’re using evidence-based medicine to drive the decisions we make,” says Beirl.
As for Hayward, the 25-bed critical access hospital is hoping to see at least a 15% reduction. “If we can stop that cycle from ever starting, then we’ve made huge strides, says the ER director.
Linder says medicine has changed fundamentally in the past 20 years and he wishes protocols such as these existed when he was first handed the tiny pills that turned his life into a nightmare. “Things should be started out in measures in smaller and less dosage to see if it really is working. I’m a big advocate about opiates. What it’s done and how its destroyed people, innocent people. And hopefully that we can get a handle this.”
Wisconsin joins neighboring midwestern states Michigan and Illinois in implementing the ALTO pathways.
No word yet on whether any Minnesota hospitals plan to launch the project.
Quigley says the hospital will track the data to ensure it’s being effective and helping patients the best way possible.
HAYWARD, WI– Patients visiting Hayward Area Memorial Hospital Emergency Room with acute pain will be offered alternative pain-relief options that don’t include opioids.
The 25 bed, Critical Access Hospital launched the initiative last month as part of a three-state project in the Midwest, which involve Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
The initiative, which is meant to reduce opioid use and promote alternatives to opioids (ALTO), is called the ‘Great Lakes Partners for Midwest ALTO’ project.
Patients who visit the ER with minor pain will follow a protocol that attempts to treat their pain with other medications in order to reduce the number of opioids distributed in order to help prevent addiction among patients.
Join us Wednesday on the KBJR 6 News at 10 to hear from hospital staff working to implement the project, as well as a man who battled addiction after being prescribed opioids.