Washington State Medical and Hospital Associations Launch Opioid Task Force

July 6, 2016

Associations join forces to tackle opioid addiction and overdose in Washington state

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Graham Short
WSMA Associate Director of Communications
(206) 441-9762
Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, WSHA
Vice President, Membership and Communications
(206) 216-2894


SEATTLE (July 6, 2016) – The Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) and the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) announced today the launch of a joint task force to develop solutions to address the growing opioid epidemic, with an eye towards ways physicians and hospitals can play a more active role in tackling this issue.

The task force will focus on driving appropriate prescribing and other best practices to help reduce prescription opioid addiction and overdose. The group also plans to advance key legislative proposals and policy initiatives.

“As physicians, we recognize the medical profession must take a leading role in reversing the potential crisis facing our state and nation,” said Ray Hsiao, MD, WSMA President. “We see firsthand the terrible toll these drugs can take on patients and their families, and we want to work with others who are committed to identifying and implementing effective solutions.”

Drug overdoses – most of them involving opioids – recently surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in our state and nationwide. Approximately 600 people die each year in Washington state from overdosing on prescription and illicit opioids.

“The U.S. is in the grips of an opioid epidemic, and people’s lives are at stake,” said Gregg Davidson, WSHA board chair. “The Washington State Hospital Association is dedicated to doing our part to prevent and decrease opioid addiction. We have a responsibility to help improve prescribing practices, support patients in pursuing other effective options for pain control, and allow for safe disposal of unused medications.”

The WSMA named three physicians on its leadership team to the task force:

  • Ray Hsiao, MD: WSMA president, child psychiatrist and addiction specialist, Seattle Children’s Hospital in Seattle
  • Tom Schaaf, MD: family physician and hospitalist, Providence Medical Group in Spokane
  • Nathan Schlicher, MD, JD: emergency physician, St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Tacoma

The WSHA also named three members to the task force:

  • Scott Kennedy, MD: chief medical officer, Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles
  • Sean Dobbin: pharmacy director at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane
  • Tom Staiger, MD: chief medical officer, UW Medical Center in Seattle

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee today praised the new task force.

“The medical community—from frontline providers to our health care systems—experience firsthand the devastating effects of opioid addiction and overdose on our communities,” Gov. Inslee said. “I am pleased to see the Washington State Medical Association and Hospital Association step up to partner with the state, public health and law enforcement to lead the charge and help end this epidemic in our state.”

The WSMA and WSHA have already taken significant steps to help prevent prescription opioid abuse, including leading statewide efforts to educate physicians on best practices for safe, effective and appropriate prescribing. The ER is for Emergencies program, which started in 2012, implemented several practices related to identifying patients who were struggling with addiction or pain management problems. Both associations also strongly support the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and encourage physicians and other health care providers to use the program’s database to check a patient’s medical history for red flags that indicate potential for opioid abuse.

These and other efforts are showing results. In Washington state, there has been a steady decline since 2008 in hospitalizations and deaths from unintentional overdose involving prescription opioids – a major reversal after many years of steady growth. But there is still more to be done.

“This is a national problem, but we know that our cooperative approach is effective in making improvements for Washington state residents,” said Davidson. “WSHA and WSMA worked together to develop ER is for Emergencies, which has been effective in helping patients and reducing costs, and I’m confident that this task force will help us enhance and accelerate this work.”

“Despite progress in some areas, more must be done to address the complex, multifaceted problem of opioid addiction and overdose,” said Dr. Hsiao. “We stand a far greater chance of reducing opioid abuse by joining forces with others committed to implementing effective solutions, including educating patients about appropriate pain management and supporting the responsible disposal of unused medication.”


About the Washington State Medical Association

The Washington State Medical Association is the only professional organization that represents the interests and priorities of all physicians in the state. Its vision is to make Washington the best place to practice medicine and to receive care. For more information on the WSMA, visit www.wsma.org.


About the Washington State Hospital Association

The Washington State Hospital Association works to improve the health of all Washington state residents by being active on key issues of policy and quality. WSHA represents more than 100 hospitals and health systems in the state, including those that are non-profit, investor-owned, and county, state and military hospitals. The Triple Aim guides our members and our work, as we strive to improve the patient experience, improve the health of populations and reduce the cost of health care. Visit www.wsha.org for more information.



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