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SafeRx Sees Progress on Ambitious Opioid Goals

Community Partnerships Clearlake, Calif.—The SafeRx Opioid Reduction Task Force, a signature project of Hope Rising Lake County, is celebrating success in lowering opioid use. Key statistics from Partnership HealthPlan of California and the California Department of Public Health demonstrate that opioid prescription use and misuse is down in the county. 

Data from Partnership HealthPlan, which contracts with the State of California to administer Medi-Cal benefits through local care, indicates that early efforts are making a difference. From January 2014 to August 2016 there was a 62 percent reduction in opioid users and an 85 percent reduction in high dose users per 100 Plan members. The opioid prescription rate dropped by 70 percent, while the average strength of the opioid dose prescribed dropped 30 percent. Most Partnership HealthPlan members live in the area served by St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake and its clinics. 

Countywide, California Department of Public Health data shows a 13 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions per 1,000 Lake County residents from 2010 to 2015, with 9 percent of the reduction occurring in 2015. 

“We are so pleased by the progress being made for the health of Lake County residents,” said Dr. Marshall Kubota, Regional Director, Partnership HealthPlan of California. “While use of opioid prescriptions in Lake County is still over twice the state average at the end of 2015, the significant downward trend demonstrates the effectiveness of local efforts.” 

SafeRx was formed as a collaboration of local health care organizations and other public agencies operating in Lake County in recognition that access to opioids, or pain medications, involves prescriptions from local physicians. The task force has set a goal to reduce deaths due to the use and misuse of prescription pain killers by 50 percent by 2020. 

“Our goals are ambitious because the issue of prescription opioid use and misuse affects the lives of too many in Lake County,” said Shelly Mascari, St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake’s director of community wellness, who directs the SafeRx project. “We know that only by working together we can start to see a difference.” 

The SafeRx team is facing the opioid use issue from many perspectives, from data analysis, community awareness, providers, law enforcement, public health, and support and treatment options. SafeRx initiatives are funded by a grant from Partnership HealthPlan as well as from support from Hope Rising partners. 

Recent initiatives have included publishing Lake County-wide prescription guidelines, which have been welcomed by providers. “Prescribers and pharmacies throughout Lake County can now align to one set of guidelines, which is an important step,” says Dr. Karen Tait, Lake County Public Health Officer. “Patients only benefit when we have a united approach to pain management.” 

Promoting alternative treatment options is another pillar of the SafeRx initiative. “We know that opioids are not always the best way to treat chronic pain,” says Mascari. “We are working to educate providers and the public about alternative, less addictive options for lessening pain.” Mascari points to the Live Well Program, a service of St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake, as a model for approaching pain management with a host of options, not just a prescription pad. 

“Changing opioid prescribing patterns is a goal that should ultimately lead to improved function and quality of life for patients,” says Tait. “In the short run, it is important for patients and physicians to work together to develop individualized treatment plans that tailor this shift in approach to each person’s needs.” 

Equally important to the SafeRx group is providing support for Lake County residents who are using prescription opioids. Providers like Dr. Melody Law, an addictionologist with St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake, are upping their caseloads to see patients who have an unhealthy use of pain medications. Community awareness efforts are spreading the message that opioid addiction is a struggle anyone can face. 

Mendocino County Health Centers (MCHC) is expanding substance abuse treatment thanks to a $325,000 grant. The Substance Abuse/Medication-Assistance Therapy grant allows MCHC to expand screening, counseling and treatment options for patients struggling with substance use, explains Kim Tangermann, director of MCHC’s Lakeview Health Center in Lakeport. “Opioid dependency crosses all social and economic barriers—this is why it requires a community-based partnership to offer avenues for recovery,” says Tangermann. “We are grateful to be able to use these grant funds to address dependency and reduce suffering for our patients and in our communities.” 

The initial data from the CDPH and Parthership HealthPlan is encouraging and the SafeRx team will roll out additional programs in the future. “Lake County still experiences more emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths due to opioids than the state average,” says Lynn Scuri, Regional Director for Partnership Health Plan of California. “We are committed to continuing to work with the SafeRx team and local partners to reduce these numbers even further. 

On February 3, SafeRx Lake County is sponsoring a county-wide Opioid Summit that will feature opioid experts from the fields of medicine, public health, pharmacy and more. To learn more about SafeRx and register for the Opioid Summit, visit 

SafeRx was formed as a collaboration of local health care organizations and other public agencies operating in Lake County in recognition that access to opioids, or pain medications, involves prescriptions from local physicians.