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Doctors target opioid epidemic by learning new approaches to pain treatment

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Twice a month, healthcare providers from rural health centers all across West Virginia meet in a virtual classroom to discuss how best to help their patients cope with chronic pain.

As West Virginia continues to be devastated by the opioid epidemic, changing the way chronic pain patients are treated has never been more important.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the number of Americans with substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers is over three times higher than those involving heroin.

The West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI) has expanded its Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program to enhance the skills of providers who treat patients with chronic pain. This program places a special emphasis on educating physicians on the dangers of opioid addiction as well as alternative treatments for chronic pain.

“Treating pain effectively and safely is more important than ever with the current opioid epidemic,” said Patrick Marshalek, M.D., co-director of the West Virginia University Center for Integrated Pain Management. “The choice of prescribed treatment for these patients can literally be the difference between life and death.”

“The opportunity to discuss complex chronic pain patients with colleagues as well as specialists helps to ensure that we are doing everything possible to address our patients’ pain, while reducing his or her chances of becoming addicted to opioids,” said Joanna Bailey, M.D., physician with the Tug River Health Association in McDowell County and ECHO participant.

This ECHO program is a collaborative effort between WVCTSI, the West Virginia Primary Care Association, and Project ECHO that utilizes a hub and spoke model that connects rural healthcare providers seeking advice on chronic pain patients with experts from the WVU School of Pharmacy and various departments across the WVU School of Medicine, including Anesthesiology, Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, and Family Medicine.

Twice a month, the rural providers meet on a video conference to discuss the issues their patients are facing and share suggestions and best practices. The WVU faculty experts provide short didactic sessions on a variety of topics, including the neurobiology of pain, the role and impact of addiction, appropriate assessment and screening processes, and more.

“This kind of program is critical when it comes to treating complex patients in rural areas,” said Dr. Bailey. “By providing high quality care close to home, we can eliminate the need for patients to travel as far away as Morgantown to get the help they need.”

“A continuous effort to ensure that we are giving our patients the most effective and safe treatment is the only way we can save our state,” said Dr. Marshalek. “The fact that we have had 65 providers in these sessions means that we are moving in the right direction.”

WVCTSI Background

WVCTSI is funded by an IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (2U54GM104942-02) to support the mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.



im 6/14/18



Ian Moore

West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute