Representatives from insurance companies, WVU Medicine physicians, and employees met recently at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital to discuss policies and procedures about the treatment of acute and chronic pain and options of how to treat pain with non-pharmacological methods.

The meeting came in response to a national opioid epidemic, which has hit West Virginia particularly hard. Over the past decade, nearly 21 million prescription painkillers have been shipped to Williamson, W.Va., which has fewer than 3,200 residents, according to a Jan. 21 Washington Post story. The Post also reported that "in 2016, more than 42,000 people in the United States overdosed on opioids and died; 40 percent of those deaths were attributed to prescription painkillers, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Virginia, which has the highest opioid overdose rate in the nation, recorded 52 deaths per 100,000 people that year, according to the data."

The event, called a Prescribing Policy Summit, was organized by the Medical Staff Affairs pain management committee.

“This summit is a tremendous step toward aligning payers, pharmacies, and prescribers on an effective and organized path to pain management,” Ron Pellegrino, MD, chief operating officer at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, said. “Bringing a group like this together can make a significant, positive impact on how we handle the opioid crisis.”

Organizations represented at the summit included Highmark, PEIA, Medicaid, The Health Plan, and the Safe and Effective Management of Pain Program. The group encourages communication and networking and will continue to work on some of the most prevalent issues that impact patients, such as access to treatment and appropriate pain management.

Summit participants will correspond over the next few months and reconvene to develop a philosophy and approach to decreasing the improper use of opioids, barriers to healthcare, and ways to safely and effectively manage the pain and improve the lives of West Virginians.

Rick Vaglienti, MD, and Patrick Marshalek, MD, co-medical directors for the WVU Medicine Center for Integrative Pain Management (CIPM), were "very pleased with the turnout and level of exchange of the attendees."

They said the group will help CIPM better serve its payers and patients.