Health & Wellness

Effort to End Opioid Crisis Starts in Paterson. St. Joseph's Health Gives Birth to National Model to Reduce Addiction

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L-R Kevin Slavin, President & CEO; Dr. Alexis M. LaPietra, Medical Director of EM Pain Management; Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Chairman, Emergency Medicine Credits: Steve Lenox
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PATERSON, NJ- New Jersey makes the world takes. While that well known adage recited Monday by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez may have originated in reference to the state’s capitol city, Trenton, it can certainly be applied to Paterson.

The nation’s first planned industrial city, the one that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, fostered the world’s largest payroll company in its earliest days, and offered the American League’s first African American baseball player, Larry Doby, the place to hone his skills, may now also be remembered as the place where the fight against opioid addiction began to be won.

At least if a group of committed doctors and three members of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation have their way.

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On Monday, Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, as well as Congressman Bill Pascrell, were flanked by Kevin Slavin, President & CEO, St. Joseph’s Health, and members of his team to tout the success of the Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) program launched there under the leadership of Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Chairman, Emergency Health, in 2016.

Seeking to help nurture the success of the program which has now been adopted in hospitals across the country such as Manatee Memorial in Florida and by the Colorado Hospital Association, the elected officials were on hand at St. Joseph’s on Monday to provide an update on their efforts, first announced in March, to make it a national model through legislation they have introduced.

The legislation, according to all three speakers, has key support from both Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

At the heart of the effort to combat what Booker called the “staggering, epic, evil, and disastrous,” effects of the opioid crisis, which an earlier statement read kills over 100 people a day, is the “ALTO approach to pain management” that focuses more on what Rosenberg called “non-addictive alternatives” to pain management.

Recalling his own experience of meeting an individual who was fighting back an opioid addiction and indicated that it was Rosenberg who gave him his first prescription after a visit to the Emergency Room, the long-time medical professional decided it was time to find a “real solution to a rapidly growing epidemic.”

“Caregivers,” he said, needed to “step up and become part of the solution.”

Thus, ALTO was born, and in just two years has led to an 82.95% reduction in opioid prescriptions in the busiest emergency department in the state, and fourth busiest in the nation.

In practical terms, ALTO encourages medical providers to use a “multi-modal approach” to care and pain relief, prescribing addictive opioids that only act to mask the pain, not actually stop it, as a last resort. Included in what Rosenberg referred to as a “toolbox” are patches and lotions, ultrasound technology, and targeted therapy, that ALTO protocols will encourage caregivers to turn to first.

Pascrell also spoke of his experience of being given pain medication following a recent medical procedure, despite telling the prescribing doctor he’d rather find an alternative. The venerable congressman, still very much clearly ready for the legislative battle ahead, said that unlike the federal government’s “failed” response to the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, this time they must address the issues of “research, prevention, treatment, and support services” for those affected by the “epidemic that shows no signs of abating.”

Asked about the chances of success of the legislation Booker shared that his belief that the “rarely seen bipartisan energy,” as well as the record of success already established in Paterson, gives it a “sincere opportunity to move forward.”

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