Program aims to increase available opioid treatment through training of healthcare professionals
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has signed an agreement with University of Iowa Health Care to develop a comprehensive, statewide opioid treatment program using $3.8 million in settlement funds.
The program will take a multi-faceted approach to making treatment for opioid use disorder available to Iowans. UI addiction specialists will conduct extensive outreach, training physicians and other healthcare providers across the state on how to treat opioid addiction using Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), in addition to providing consultation and treatment for complex addiction cases.
“From the beginning of our efforts to hold opioid makers and others accountable, my goal has always been to help Iowans who were victims of the opioid epidemic,” says Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. “This first settlement is kick-starting these efforts.”
The $3.8 million comes from Miller’s settlement with McKinsey & Co., one of the world’s largest consulting firms. Iowa’s lawsuit alleged that McKinsey contributed to the opioid crisis by promoting marketing schemes and consulting services to opioid manufacturers, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, for over a decade. This is the first multistate opioid settlement to result in substantial payment to the states to address the epidemic.
“UI Health Care is a logical partner because of its expertise in addiction treatment and prior experience providing MAT training to physicians across the state,” Miller says.
UI Hospitals & Clinics launched a clinic that uses MAT to treat opioid addiction in 2017. MAT uses the drugs buprenorphine or methadone as medications for addiction and withdrawal. They have both been shown to be highly effective in preventing opioid overdose deaths.
To prescribe buprenorphine or methadone, many physicians and healthcare providers need specialized training. In 2018, providers at the UI opioid clinic received a three-year, $1.5 million grant to train clinicians across the state in MAT.
Mary Kathleen Figaro, MD, an endocrinologist in Davenport is one of the providers who received MAT training through the grant.
“I’m one of just a handful of MAT providers in the Quad Cities area,” says Figaro. “I decided to do the training because as an endocrinologist, I see the devastating effects of heroin and narcotics on the endocrine system of patients. It’s very difficult to beat narcotic addiction, so the more resources we have in our community, the better.”
Alison Lynch, MD, professor of psychiatry and family medicine, and director of the opioid addiction clinic at UI Hospitals & Clinics, says that the funding from the settlement will bolster her team’s efforts to train more providers in more Iowa communities on how to treat opioid addiction.
There are currently 108 MAT-trained providers in the state of Iowa, making it difficult for many Iowans with opioid use disorders to quickly find local treatment. This lack of access had a devastating effect during the pandemic; the number of opioid-related deaths in Iowa increased nearly 36% in 2020, which was largely fueled by the additional stress and isolation many Iowans experienced this past year.
“A comprehensive, statewide MAT system of education and care will directly benefit the many Iowans struggling with opioid addiction,” says Gerard Clancy, MD, a professor of psychiatry and Senior Associate Dean for External Affairs at UI Carver College of Medicine. “A number of cities and states have successfully reduced opioid-related deaths by increasing access to MAT, and we plan to replicate this success here in Iowa.”
To reach more individuals suffering from opioid addiction and raise awareness of the program, UI Health Care will be collaborating with a number of entities: state agencies, community mental health centers, harm reduction coalitions, healthcare collaboratives, county jails, medical societies, and more.
“To put an end to the opioid crisis, it absolutely has to be a team effort,” says Lynch. “The more physicians that have MAT in their toolkit and can work with community partners to provide support for individuals with addiction and other mental health issues, the more lives that will be saved.”
In 2022 and beyond, the state expects more funding to come from settlements with other companies responsible for fueling the opioid crisis.
“Our office will work with other state agencies, county and city officials, and others to find additional ways to spread the money throughout the state to benefit all Iowans, particularly those harmed by the opioid crisis,” says Miller.
Iowans seeking help with mental health issues and drug or alcohol abuse can find a list of MAT providers, counselors and other treatment options via a free program called “Your Life Iowa.” Visit yourlifeiowa.org, call 855-581-8111, or text 855-895-8398.
“Overall, we need to destigmatize addiction and increase awareness that it is a treatable medical condition so that more people seek help and less people die from overdoses,” says Lynch.