June 23, 2022

Tragedy to vision

It started with a tragedy, and became a vision. Five years ago, Cammie Wolf Rice lost her son, Christopher Wolf, to an opiate overdose after prolonged use of pain medication prescribed following a number of surgeries. Repeated recovery attempts were unsuccessful, and Christopher became one of the 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016. But he would not be just a statistic.

After this significant personal loss, Rice knew she had to do something to help others avoid the same outcome – to make Christopher’s shortened life more than a statistic. She knew that the dangers of regular opiate use “as prescribed” had not been communicated properly to her or Christopher. She saw healthcare teams that had the time to prescribe, but not educate, about the risks of drug use in managing pain. She also learned that there is no requirement for medical students to receive related training as part of the core curriculum at accredited medical schools.

Christopher’s death led to the vision, and reality, of Life Care Specialists (LCS). The LCS joins the health care team to help monitor patients’ pain levels, teach alternative methods for coping with physical and emotional pain without prescription medication, educate patients and caregivers on the risks of opiates, and communicate with other medical staff regarding the patient’s needs. Preliminary results have been encouraging, including a 20% reduction in opiate consumption among patients who were being seen by a LCS.

The LCS program is being piloted at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia under the supervision of Dr. Mara Schenker, Chief of Orthopaedics at Grady, with the intent to expand to other hospitals and ambulatory facilities across Georgia and the US. A randomized controlled trial is underway to verify results and identify additional opportunities for improvement.