Last Wednesday, the Rhode Island Medical Society, along with the American Medical Association and the Rhode Island Department of Health, announced their plan to combat opioid addiction in the state. They are developing an online “toolbox,” which will be available to both healthcare providers and patients.

“This is an all-in effort. We need partners on the federal level, state level and local level to address this issue,” said AMA Chairwoman Dr. Patrice Harris, who was present during the announcement.

Credit: Frankieleon, Flickr
Credit: Frankieleon, Flickr

Steven DeToy, who serves as the Director of Government and Public Affairs at the Medical Society, said the toolbox will be a “large one-stop resource.” It will include pharmacological research, best practices, alternative treatment options, and educational materials.

“We just need to make sure that our providers have the greatest breadth of resources available to make sure pain can be treated in the most effective way and hopefully in a way that will not lead to an opioid abuse disorder,” DeToy said.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in both Rhode Island and the U.S., with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, including opioids, nationally, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. In 2015, over 250 people died due to drug overdose in Rhode Island. The state is ranked #4 in HealthGrove’s ranking of “States with the Biggest Drug Overdose Problem.”

“Some practitioners are reluctant to push the envelope on treating pain with an abundance of opioids because they have a fear of creating an addict,” said Dr. Anthony Campbell, who is a Clinical Specialty Consultant for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

“What we want to do is help those practitioners and provide them with some guidelines that can help relieve their fears.”

Two states — Rhode Island and Alabama — were selected by SAMHSA to pilot this project. The project is funded through their Providers’ Clinical Support System for Opioid Therapies grant, Campbell said.

The PCSS-O grant is a national training and mentoring grant for healthcare providers that has developed webinars, teaching modules and a mentorship program for physicians who are treating chronic pain, Campbell said, adding that “the grant is always evolving, as it is driven by what’s going in the field.” It is led by the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry in partnership with several constituency groups, including the AMA, which has been tasked with developing the tool kit.

The two states’ toolboxes will share some common elements, but Rhode Island’s toolbox will include localized resources. “Although this is a national problem, the solutions to this problem need to be state-based. We will be identifying state-specific patterns and state-specific solutions,” Harris said.

The toolbox will also integrate Rhode Island’s existing efforts to address the opioid overdose crisis, he added. In fact, the Ocean State was selected to be a part of this pilot project because the state has taken strides to combat the opioid overdose crisis.

Last year, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force announced the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths by one-third within three years. And in June, research by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that Rhode Island has lowered the amount of opioid prescriptions by doctors by 16 percent, which is more than any other state.

“Virtually no other state has committed the kind of resources we have to treatment and prevention,” DeToy said.

If the pilot program is successful, then the toolbox may be distributed nationally. “We believe these two early partnerships, will further serve us as a foundation for our efforts going forward,” Harris said.

The toolbox will be available in Rhode Island by October, and the plan is for the toolbox to be distributed electronically to every physician in Rhode Island, DeToy said.