When used properly, opioid medications are an effective and appropriate way to manage pain. However, it’s important that patients only use such prescriptions as directed, and fully understand the associated risks, when to stop, what to do with leftover medications when they’re no longer needed and alternative ways to reduce discomfort.

To increase awareness about these topics, CoxHealth recently launched a new education program that provides several different touchpoints to educate patients about opioids. This program currently involves surgical patients, and is utilized across CoxHealth.

“Opioid medications can be a very effective tool when used appropriately, but unfortunately there are situations when they aren’t used as they should be,” said Tina Tarter-Hamlet, patient education coordinator at CoxHealth. “Education has always been part of CoxHealth’s protocol, but we wanted to give even more information so patients are even more empowered.”

Under the new program, patients are educated several times through printed materials, verbal instruction and video. While encounters vary depending on whether a surgery is outpatient or inpatient, the educational points are generally done during a visit with the surgeon prior to surgery, on the day of surgery, while patients are in the hospital, on their last day in the hospital and as they are discharged.

Additionally, its areas of focus include:

How pain is measured Adverse effects of opioids Alternative methods to control pain, including over-the-counter options How to avoid misuse and abuse How to properly store and control opioids What to do in case of an overdose The proper disposal of opioids

“So far, patients have been very receptive to these efforts,” said Tarter-Hamlet. “Hopefully, the program will help raise the level of awareness about these medications, when to use them appropriately, and that they aren’t usually the only option for pain relief.”