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The opioid epidemic is considered the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. The Trump Administration recently declared a public health emergency to deal with the epidemic. In Nevada, opioid overdoses were the leading cause of drug-related deaths in 2015. According to the National Vital Statistics System, 619 Nevadans died of a drug overdose that year and 68% of those deaths were from opioids.In this series, Reno Public Radio’s health reporter Anh Gray tours a treatment facility, and talks with substance abuse experts, patients and others to get the scope of the problem and explore some solutions.

Specialists Help Rural Docs Treat Opioid Addiction Via Telehealth

Thousands of Nevadans living in rural communities and underserved areas have limited access to healthcare. The remoteness can also make it difficult for primary care providers treating people with opioid-use disorders. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray reports that teleconferencing could help bridge the gap.

About ten specialists in Reno have gathered to provide mentorship to primary care providers. What’s different here is that those providers are scattered across the state and they’re communicating via teleconference. 

Those specialists include psychiatrists, social workers and pharmacists.

Danika Pierce is a licensed social worker with Northern Nevada Hopes, a community health center based in Reno. She’s sharing her expertise about Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioids, which combines behavioral therapy with medication.

“We also have to understand that substance abuse and dependence is really complex and there’s a continuum of behavior," Pierce explains to a group of providers through teleconferencing, "so we’ve got people on one end who are completely abstinent or have non-problematic substance use, occasional, moderate substance use, to those who are in a full-blown addiction and who are unable to manage their lives.”

Participants are part of the Project Echo program run by The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. Christopher Marchand is the program director. He refers to the work as telementoring, explaining that primary care providers can learn about best practices. Access to specialists can be hard to come by since there’s a provider shortage.

“What makes it really valuable for everybody is the ability for a remote, rural primary care provider to present a case during the clinic, which the urban specialist on our team can provide consultation on," Marchand explains. "Specialists provide recommendations on treatment options, medications changes or adjustments, or certain labs.”

This year, Nevada received $5.6 million in funding from the federal government to combat the epidemic. Project Echo received about a $250,000 from that pot to step up efforts.

Anh Gray is a former contributing editor at KUNR Public Radio.
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