EDINBURG — As the country continues to grapple with an opioid epidemic, a group of physicians will be meeting with state legislators in Austin on Monday to discuss the issue throughout the state.
Among them is Dr. Luis Rios, an Edinburg-based plastic surgeon and president-elect of the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons, who said he hopes to inform state legislators on strategies that could be implemented to reduce or eliminate the amount of opioids that are being prescribed to their patients.
One of the possible solutions they’ll be discussing is a way to share a patient’s prescription information with other doctors.
Rios said a new law will be implemented in September that requires doctors to check an electronic medical record system before prescribing opioids to a patient. Doing this would allow them to see if another doctor has already prescribed the medication to the patient.
However, the law wasn’t integrated very well and the system not user friendly, he said.
“It’s a great concept but it’s not quite there yet,” Rios said.
If doctors are not going to use that system, will lawmakers allow pharmacists to place a cap on prescriptions or should physicians place a cap, Rios asked.
“These are all discussions that we need to have to try to figure out how we’re going to deal with this issue,” he said.
Another avenue to curb the epidemic is to prescribe a non-opioid pain reliever called Exparel, though the medication is really expensive, between $200-$300, and not covered by insurance.
Nationwide, researchers and doctors have debated the effectiveness of the drug, but Rios said it has worked for his patients, relieving pain for about three days.
The pain medication is particularly effective in conjunction with another method he implemented during surgeries.
For tummy tucks, for example, he eliminated the need to insert drainage tubes during surgery.
“With that technique and then injecting the medicines, our patients are walking straight overnight, they’re not walking bent over,” he said, referring to the Exparel drug. “You wouldn’t even know that they had a surgery. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
“This medicine works for those three days,” he said. “So if everything eases off by the third day, if that medicine is helping you through those three days, then you never get in that hole, and you never experience the bad pain.”
Patients dealing with chronic pain are usually the poster children when it comes to talking about prescribing opioids, but that’s not necessarily the case.
As a plastic surgeon, it would be easy to believe that his patients are not in danger of abusing opioids, but Rios said studies now show that just a few days of opioid use could put patients at risk of developing an addiction.
About five months ago, Rios said he began making changes within his practice, the Rios Center for Plastic Surgery, and cut opioid prescriptions in half.
“It’s very interesting because maybe 20 years ago when I started (my) practice, one of the things that Medicare and the federal government was kind of after us for was that we weren’t giving enough pain relief to our patients,” Rios said. “All of a sudden now, it starts swinging the other way.”
During this legislative session, there are 15 house bills and at least seven senate bills dealing with the opioid issue.
Among them is Senate Bill 1112 which was filed by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
The bill calls for the Department of State Health Services to conduct an ongoing study on opioid overdoses in the state. The study would look into the specific opioids responsible for overdoses and deaths, the populations most vulnerable to opioid misuse, and the regions most affected by the impacts of opioid misuse.
Based on the study, the department would would devise a plan to prevent opioid overdoses and opioid-related deaths.
Rios said he hopes to help with that by talking to legislators tomorrow about their practices.
“If we can show this is what we’re doing and this is how we’re educating our physicians, then I think that will help all the other specialties as well,” he said.