State to create opioid treatment training program

By Dar Danielson, Radio Iowa
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced a program Wednesday with the University of Iowa Health to offer a statewide opioid addiction treatment training.

The program will be funded with nearly four million dollars from an opioid settlement — and will train doctors and many other health care providers. “We think that the training will be certainly population wise per capita disproportionately in rural Iowa That the practitioners that will be served will be in rural Iowa,” Miller says. “We are very conscious of having a set of programs that cover the whole state.”

Dr. Gerard Clancy.

U-I professor of psychiatry, Doctor Gerard Clancy, says the pandemic has exacerbated the issue. “Our society is struggling with this pandemic beyond the virus infections themselves, and it shows up with opioid addictions. We are seeing very self-destructive ways of dealing with the stress — with almost an epidemic of self-destructive behaviors across our society,” Clancy says.

Clancy says he sees the issues every day in the emergency room.”There are days when 30 percent of all our patients in the emergency room for heart attacks and strokes, and car accidents — up to 30 percent of the patients are there for mental illness and addiction issues — and that’s an increase. We’ve seen a large increase in calls to our suicide hotline, we’ve seen an increase in high-speed motor vehicle deaths, even though our driving time is down,” according to Clancy.

Dr. Alison Lynch.

Doctor Alison Lynch is the director of the opioid addiction clinic at U-I Hospitals & Clinics. “The primary medications that we use to treat opioid use disorder are methadone and buprenorphine. And people need easier access to these medications — particularly easier access to buprenorphine — because it is so easy to incorporate into many aspects of clinical care.”

The program trains doctors and others on how to use the drugs to help patients overcome the addiction. There is some concern because buprenorphine is an opioid, but Lynch says it does not give the high that opioid users seek. “But it does make people feel more normal. It reduces cravings for opioids and when they are taking buprenorphine they don’t have to worry about going into withdrawal,” according to Lynch. “….they feel better and it reduces the amount of time and energy that is required when they have an addiction that is not controlled.

Lynch is also a professor of psychiatry and family medicine, and says getting the opioid addiction under control can help with other addictions as well. She says this new program will target some of the areas to make it easier for people to get the treatment they need.

“We are going to be working with emergency departments across the state of Iowa to encourage them to offer buprenorphine to people who come into their emergency room seeking treatment for opioid use disorders,” she says. “Another part of this project involves the recognition that many contacts within our criminal justice system involve substance use. And by working with county jails we are going to help increase the capacity of jails to help people with opioid use disorder get started on the path to recovery through medication treatment.”

Lynch says those who go through the trainer get a waiver to use the drugs for opioid treatment.
“One of the issues is that even when we have trained people, not everybody that gets the waiver uses it. We will be doing some things to really help people not just get the training — but also get the waiver and use the waiver,” Lynch says.

If you are seeking help with mental health issues and drug or alcohol abuse, you can find a list of drug treatment providers, counselors, and other treatment options via a free program called “Your Life Iowa.” Visit yourlifeiowa.org.