Dr. Donald Stader is working with other hospitals and emergency room physicians in Colorado to prescribe fewer prescription painkillers to patients. 

(Courtesy Dr. Donald Stader)

About a dozen Colorado hospitals and free-standing emergency rooms are piloting a program to reduce opioid addiction by prescribing fewer narcotics and offering alternatives like topical therapies and prescription muscle relaxants to help patients cope with pain.

Dr. Donald Stader, associate medical director and emergency room physician at Swedish Medical Center, told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner his interest began when he met a young woman who'd overdosed on heroin -- an addiction that started when she was prescribed opioids for an ankle sprain. 

About 500 people died in Colorado last year of  opioid and heroin overdoses. Stader, along with emergency rooms doctors across the state and the Colorado Hospital Association, are tracking data to see whether they can prescribe fewer narcotics while effectively treating pain. He says the final results will be out next year, but preliminary findings indicate the effort is having some success.