MU Health professionals discuss opioid abuse treatments

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COLUMBIA - With Missouri being the last state in the country without a drug monitoring program, health care professionals struggle with the opioid epidemic that's facing the state.

Jacob Waller, an EMS supervisor with MU Health Care, said ambulance services generally see about three to five opioid misuse instances per week.

"It could be anything from overdose at a fast food restaurant, to accidental administration of too many medications at a nursing home; a child gets into a medication cabinet and takes too many of their parent's medications, it really runs the gamut," Waller said.

Julia Chisholm, manager of outpatient pharmacies at MU Health Care, said retail pharmacies have had to increase scrutiny of the prescriptions they hand out.

"At Mizzou pharmacy, we have patients that come to us from sometimes other states, just because they know Missouri doesn't have a prescription drug monitoring program and they want to be able to fill those unmonitored," Chisholm said. "So patients from Florida, patients from Kentucky, patients from all over attempting to come here to fill prescriptions." 

The opioid epidemic not only stems from patient misuse of prescription pills, but also from a lack of training and education among practicing medical professionals.

"There's been studies that have shown that, especially for physicians, the amount of training that they've received in medical school or residency regarding treating pain, is very minimal at best," said Karl Haake, a pain management consultant for the Missouri Primary Care Association.

Haake said, to treat opioid addiction, chronic pain professionals need to treat underlying addictions to help patients understand the real cause of their pain.

"Sometimes with patients it's, 'Oh, I went to treatment and now I'm cured.' You're never really truly cured from the addiction. You may be in remission, but it's still an ongoing thing," he said.

Haake said it's important to understand that there are alternatives to using opiates to treat chronic pain.

"Sometimes it's lifestyle adjustments. Exercise, relaxation, getting a hobby, volunteering. Doing all sorts of things to help move the patient away from some of those addiction issues,"  he said.

Rich Lillard, a clinical psychologist for the Community Health Center of Central Missouri, agreed.

"Idle hands are the devil's playground. There's truth in that.," he said.

Lillard said it's important for people struggling with pain to stay busy.

"A lot of times we need to get them out of their environmental system, because that system usually contributes to their current situation," he said. "Either relationships are based around it, maybe substance abuse, just some of the social determinants that have to be addressed and identified."

The City of Columbia passed an ordinance for retail pharmacies to participate in a controlled substance monitoring program on March 6. The database goes live April 25.