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Federal grants help Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences combat opioid epidemic

Daily Oklahoman - 1/2/2019

Jan. 02--TULSA -- The Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences will take its crusade against the opioid addiction epidemic to four of the state's hardest hit communities in 2019 and will launch a three-­year project to drastically expand the number of Oklahoma physicians who can prescribe medications for treatment.

The latest efforts in the OSU-CHS fight to curtail opioid misuse and addiction are being funded by two federal grants totaling $1.8 million.

"These grants will give us more resources to help educate and treat those suffering from addiction, as well as prevent the next generation from becoming addicted to these drugs that can become deadly when misused," said Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU-CHS and dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In 2016, 813 Oklahomans died from overdoses -- a rate of 21.5 people per 100,000, compared to the national rate of 19.8 people per 100,000, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Trust for America's Health reports the rate in Oklahoma could increase to 31.7 people per 100,000 by 2025 if drastic steps are not taken.

OSU-CHS established the Center for Wellness and Recovery in November 2017 to champion a comprehensive approach to addiction and pain management through research, education and clinical care.

"We are in a rapid growth early phase," said Julie Croff, executive director of the center. "Since June, we've secured these two grants and some private funding."

Community education

The center received a $1.4 million grant from the CDC, through the state Health Department, to fund work in Ardmore, Duncan, McAlester and Tahlequah in 2019.

OSU physicians, residents and staff will be in each community for one week to provide education, treatment and community events.

"We really need to get a hold on things. It's no surprise that our rural communities are the hardest hit," said Croff, who has a Ph.D. in public health with an emphasis in health behavior.

There is less opportunity for addiction treatment in rural communities, and it can be hard to go to a familiar physician and say, "I have a problem," she said.

In each city, the team will work to educate the broader community to recognize and react to opioid misuse. For example, coaches who understand the issue can watch injured athletes as they recover for signs of overuse or dependency, Croff said.

"A little bit of education certainly can have a lot of power and can help with that stigma piece," she said.

Doctor training

Opioid addiction is the plague of today, said Dr. Jason Beaman, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at OSU's medical school and director of training and education for the center.

"We're having to adapt daily because we're in the middle of a public health crisis," Beaman said.

The Center for Wellness and Recovery is working to attack the crisis on all fronts.

The second grant -- a $440,000 award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration -- will allow the center to train all residents in the OSU system so they can provide medication-assisted treatment for addiction in primary care settings throughout the state.

The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 requires the specialized training before physicians can dispense or prescribe approved medications for treatment of addiction in settings other than methadone clinics, Croff said.

"Three years from now we're going to have a much better workforce to address this," she said.

Funding is included to offer continuing medical education to physicians throughout Oklahoma at all stages of their careers.

The CDC reports enough opioids were prescribed in Oklahoma in 2016 for every adult in the state to have more than 100 pills.

"Most doctors who are prescribing pain medicine genuinely believe that they are doing what is best for their patients. They're doing what they've been taught," Beaman said.

There is a need to train many established doctors to change the way they have been practicing, he said.

That includes educating them about new and better ways to treat pain, Croff said.

"As we train doctors to treat opioid dependency, we also will impact the way they prescribe," Croff said.

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(c)2019 The Oklahoman

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