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Supervisor Hahn Wants Coroner to Notify Doctors of Patient Opioid Overdoses

Los Angeles, CA—Today, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn proposed a new policy in which the Los Angeles County of Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner would notify doctors about patients who have died of opioid overdoses. The policy is inspired by new research published by LA County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas, which shows this practice leads doctors to prescribe fewer opioids.

“Opioid addiction is unique– it doesn’t start at a party or on the streets– it starts in a doctor’s office,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Our doctors need to know in a real tangible way the consequences of these drugs and this is an opportunity for the County to work in a creative way to help them become part of the solution.”

Before becoming LA County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas was working as Chief Deputy Medical Examiner in San Diego and participated in a groundbreaking experiment.  The medical examiner’s office began sending letters to doctors informing them when their patients died of opioid overdoses. The researchers then studied the doctors’ prescriptions following receiving the letter and found that doctors who received a letter wrote 10% fewer opioid prescriptions over the 3-month study period.

“Awareness works,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas said. “Alerting doctors about patient overdose deaths is a unique opportunity for the department to have an impact on public health, effect change and potentially save lives.”

Today, the Board of Supervisors considered a motion authored by Supervisor Hahn and co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis instructing the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner to report back in 30 days in the feasibility of implementing a policy based off of this study in LA County. The motion passed unanimously.

“One Los Angeles County resident dying from an opioid overdose is one too many,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who co-authored the motion. “The County will continue to be responsive when individuals turn to us for help in treating this addiction. To effectively tackle the opioid crisis, we must think outside of the box, advocate, and expand our reach to help as many people as possible, and that includes helping our most vulnerable residents and immigrant communities. No one should be left behind in this effort.”

The study was published last week in the journal Science. You can read the full study.