Falling medication

Recently the San Diego County medical examiner’s office addressed letters directly to the doctor of patients who died from an opioid prescription overdose. Its contents were intended to focus the physician the opioid crisis taking place in America and his or her possible role in it. “This is a courtesy communication to inform you that your patient [name, date of birth inserted here] died on [date inserted here]. Prescription drug overdose was either the primary cause of death or contributed to the death,” the letter read. (Healy, 8/9)

Doctors who were informed of their patients’ deaths were 7 percent less likely to start new patients on opioids and issued fewer high-dose prescriptions over the next three months, compared with those who did not receive a letter. In total, there was a 9.7 percent reduction in the total amount of opioids they prescribed, according to results published Thursday in the Journal Science. (Johnson, 8/9)

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Brandeis University’s Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, who was not involved with the study. “If a prescriber’s patient ultimately loses their life to a drug overdose, that prescriber should be notified — there should be that feedback.” Still, such an effort wouldn’t be feasible everywhere, said Dr. Kim Collins, a forensic pathologist in South Carolina and 2018 president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. Depending on a jurisdiction’s policies and coroner and medical examiner system, pathologists can’t always disclose causes of death of individual patients. (Joseph, 8/9)

The Great Plains QIN partners with providers, pharmacists and stakeholders in the region to reduce and monitor Adverse Drug Events (ADEs). A specific strategy to advance this work is to monitor Medicare consumer ADE rates on several prescription medications; one being opioids. Learn how you can partner with the Great Plains QIN to reduce ADEs by visiting our website.


  1.  (2018, August 10). Dear Doctor, Your Patient Died from Opioids: Letter Writing Campaign Has Success In Altering Prescription Practices. Retrieved from https://khn.org