Solving Kentucky’s opioid crisis will require doctors to better educate their patients about the dangers of some prescription drugs, the Kentucky Medical Association’s director said.

Dr. Nancy Swikert

Dr. Nancy Swikert, the director, said the organization “will continue to emphasize physicians’ role in solving the crisis”  at its annual meeting next month.

More than 1,400 people in Kentucky died from drug overdoses last year, including 364 in Jefferson County. The state’s figure jumped 7.4 percent from the prior year. Fatalities in Louisville were up 36 percent.

The vast majority of opioid addicts become hooked after being prescribed narcotics by their doctors.

“Physicians, who often operate on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, are focused heavily on reducing abuse and addiction,” Swikert said in an op-ed the association submitted this week.

She also said that doctors are best equipped to know what works best for their patients — whether “counseling, medication-assisted treatment or a combination of both.”

Swikert said that the Know Your Meds KY initiative “encourages physicians to counsel patients on the risks associated with opioids, the importance of adhering to prescription schedules and proper disposal of unused medicines.”

Louisville-based health care organizations, too, are combating the opioid crisis with better educational and treatment efforts.

Dr. James Frazier

Norton Healthcare, for example, monitors its physicians’ prescribing patterns and reminds them to provide patients enough medication to manage their pain, but also to encourage them to use alternative pain meds and therapies, said Dr. James Frazier, vice president of medical affairs.

“As providers, we are in the unique position to help steer patients, their families and the affected community out of this epidemic, with increased education about narcotics and other therapies involved in reducing pain,” Frazier told Insider via email. “We know that we also need to educate patients on pain, recognizing that complete elimination of pain is not always a possibility.”

Dr. Robert Couch, medical director of Norton’s emergency department, had previously told Insider that he wants his patients to be comfortable — but not pain free. “Pain is present for a reason,” he said.

Our Lady of Peace, part of Louisville-based KentuckyOne Health, this year introduced a retail pharmacist-operated, long-acting injection clinic, in part to help people get and stay off drugs such as heroin.

Swikert said that education is a key component of preventing and treating opidoid addiction.

“It can start with a simple conversation at your doctor’s office,” she said.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.