UM doctors get $1.4M state grant to probe opioids

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

An initiative launched Monday by three University of Michigan doctors will tackle a major source of the deadly opioid epidemic: prescription narcotics prescribed after surgery.

The project by two surgeons and an anesthesiologist will be funded by a $1.4 million grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services, matched with an equal amount from UM.

Through the university’s Institute for Health Policy and Innovation, the doctors will research the best practices for prescribing narcotics after surgery, and then educate surgeons and hospitals on ways to reduce patients’ risk of post-surgery opioid addiction.

Dr. Michael Englesbe, a UM transplant surgeon, decided to get involved after he “increasingly” noticed a spike in the number of organs donated by drug overdose victims.

“I’ve noticed these people have respiratory arrest from drug OD,” Englesbe said Monday. “They’re younger, healthier people, so a lot of them become donors.

“It’s good for the transplant business, but its very sad for society.”

Named the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, or Michigan-OPEN, the goal of the initiative is to cut the number of opioids prescribed in the state and the number of patients still using opioids months after surgery by half.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will provide data and access to thousands of physicians involved in the health insurers’ Continuous Quality Improvement initiatives, networks of doctors working together to improve health care.

Chad Brummett, one of Michigan-OPEN’s three leaders and director of the Division of Pain Research in the UM Department of Anesthesiology, said they “hope that by working with surgical teams across the state, we can fill that gap for the benefit of individual patients and our state as a whole.”

Dr. Jennifer Waljee, a UM plastic surgery doctor who is also leading the effort, noted that nearly half of Michigan surgeons recently surveyed by the Michigan-OPEN team don’t talk to patients about pain management issues prior to surgery.

Dependence on opioids can lead to poor health results as well as the potential for misuse and addiction to both prescription and illegal opioids including heroin, Englesbe said.

“You start prescription opioids, you end up taking more and more, doctors stop writing (prescriptions) for them, and then you go to a cheaper opioid, which is heroin,” he said.

“You think there would be best practices (for prescribing opioids), but there are not.”