CRANSTON, R.I. — There were 320 drug overdose deaths in 2017 as Rhode Island’s fatality rate in the opioid epidemic fell from 9th to 11th highest, a statistic CODAC Behavioral Healthcare and Thundermist Health Center intend to keep improving with tele-medicine access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorder.
Now, Thundermist nurse case managers can teleconference with CODAC treatment prescribers so patients can be prescribed suboxone when they first seek treatment.
“Lack of transportation, medication shortages, and stigma continue to be a barrier to care for Rhode Island’s recovery community, and we now have an opportunity to reach more people before it is too late,” said Linda Hurley, President/CEO of CODAC Behavioral Healthcare.
“We need to respond as soon as a patient says they want treatment,” said Jeanne LaChance, president/CEO of Thundermist Health Center. “This program ensures we’re providing patients with treatment when they tell us they’re ready.”
After patients meet with a nurse care manager at Thundermist and receive an initial assessment, patients will be able to teleconference with a CODAC provider to start a treatment plan. Thereafter, the nurse care manager gives patients an introduction about the proper use of medication. Patients are able to begin receiving medication that same day.
Mary Walton will be the first physician assistant at CODAC to use the telehealth prescribing system.
“Many patients might seek illicit drugs to prevent the agonizing symptoms of withdrawal when they are unable to obtain immediate treatment. As treatment providers, it is disheartening to learn when patients felt they had to resort to using fentanyl or other dangerous opioids to avoid feeling sick,” Walton said.
Providers are also optimistic about the possibility of reaching more underserved members of the community through telehealth, Hurley says. “Time and time again, we have heard that patients won’t seek services from an opioid treatment program such as CODAC because of the stigma associated with attending OTP facilities. Through telehealth, more patients in need can receive medication assisted treatment while seeing their primary care physician at Thundermist, essentially removing a major barrier to care.”
CODAC Behavioral Healthcare collaborated with Thundermist Health Center and the Rhode Island Department of Health to develop a grant proposal that was submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant funds were applied towards the video conferencing equipment, and the administrative infrastructure needed to realize the project.
CODAC Behavioral Healthcare is currently in discussions with other healthcare providers to bring similar telehealth services to Wakefield and Block Island, a move counselors say can expand access to care.