S.C. Providers Meet to Teach and Learn Opioid Treatment Lessons

Dr. Kelly Barth addressing a group of addiction specialists in Florence, South Carolina.

In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic, healthcare providers and addiction specialists in South Carolina are coming together to address the crisis head-on. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says 550 South Carolinians died of an overdose in 2016, up nearly 20 percent over two years. More than 5,700 patients were discharged from South Carolina emergency rooms relating to opioid abuse in 2015, according to the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS).

Dozens of counselors, social workers, nurses, physicians, and psychologists from across the state met in Florence this week to share their experience with treating addiction in their communities. Researchers and practitioner from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) led the discussion.

The researchers said they’re excited to launch a program in the coming months to share knowledge with providers statewide – through a virtual connection that has been used to enhance Hepatitis C treatment in South Carolina. The program allows experienced addiction specialists to teach rural doctors how to treat patients with an opioid dependency.

Here’s how it works: specialists and primary care doctors connect on a secure network, the doctors discuss what they’re seeing with their patients, discuss the issues, and then determine treatment with the aid of specialists.

“It’s a method to get our message out to providers in the community,” said Louise Haynes, a social worker and professor at MUSC.

The program will start as soon as next month – using the ECHO model of communication to educate and train providers in addiction treatment.

Haynes says the initial focus is to engage primary care physicians who are apprehensive about treating addiction without proper training.

“We feel it’s essential for South Carolina to reach out to providers in communities where they may be interested and want to meet their community’s need but feel like they need mentoring and support,” Haynes said.

Researchers say the initiative will provide networking and support to rural healthcare providers who otherwise wouldn’t have those educational resources.

The MUSC team traveled to the University of New Mexico to be trained by the team who created the ECHO model. Researchers say the new program will enhance treatment from all angles.

“We’ll start with physicians who are newly waivered,” said Dr. Kelly Barth, an addiction psychiatrist and MUSC professor. “I would love to see us all talking together across disciplines. I would love to hear from counselors.”

Researchers said education is crucial to fighting back against the worst drug epidemic in American history, and there is help out there for those who need it.

“We need to make sure the community knows that addiction is a disease that has a life-saving treatment,” said Barth. “And that it’s available in our state.”