Recommendations for Safe Opioid Use in Hospitals

Author: Daniel Weiss, Senior Editor

An alert from the Joint Commission includes a number of ways to ensure safe administration of opioids in hospitals, several of which emphasize the role of pharmacists.

The use of opioids in hospitals is generally safe, but the medications are among those most frequently associated with adverse drug events. To help reduce the unintended consequences of opioid use among hospital inpatients, the Joint Commission released a Sentinel Event Alert on August 8, 2012, titled “Safe use of opioids in hospitals.”
Concern over adverse drug events involving opioids is well-founded. A British study that analyzed 3695 inpatient adverse drug reactions found that 16% involved opioids. In addition, the incidence of respiratory depression among post-operative patients averages about 0.5%. Among opioid-related adverse drug events reported to the Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event database between 2004 and 2011, 47% were wrong-dose medication errors, 29% were related to improper monitoring of the patient, and 11% were related to other factors, including excessive dosing, medication interactions, and adverse drug reactions.
The key to safe use of opioids in the hospital setting is assessing pain accurately and applying appropriate pain management techniques. Among the recommendations included in the Joint Commission alert are the following:
The alert also includes advice on systemic approaches to reducing the risk of adverse drug events: