Paterson hospital's effort to cut opioid prescriptions part of national anti-addiction law


WASHINGTON — A North Jersey hospital's program to sharply reduce emergency room opioid prescriptions is now a national model, one of dozens of ideas for attacking the addiction epidemic that Congress compiled into a 250-page bill that President Donald Trump signed Wednesday.

Inspired by an aggressive effort at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson, which has the fourth-busiest emergency department in the country, the bill authorizes $10 million in competitive grants over three years to hospitals to study alternative pain control methods and train personnel to use them.

Working on the theory that reducing opioid-based painkillers at the start of treatment would eliminate the opportunity for patients to misuse the drugs or become addicted, St. Joseph's cut opioid prescriptions in the emergency department by 83 percent, issuing 746 scripts in the six months ending in February compared with 4,376 in the prior six months.

"What St. Joseph's built in Paterson will soon be saving lives across America," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson.

Pascrell and Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez initially sponsored the grant program as a separate bill, known as ALTO, or Alternatives to Opiods, and it passed the House unanimously in June. Congressional leaders combined bills that had been pending in each chamber into a wide-ranging, bipartisan measure that gives multiple federal departments and agencies new powers and supports new approaches to preventing and beating addiction.