New program combats opioid epidemic; provides peer coaches, withdrawal drugs

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COLUMBIA - The average life expectancy in Missouri is dropping for the first time in generations. 

"Overdoses from opioids and other drugs is the single thing that is driving up the mortality rate in Missouri," said David Dillon with the Missouri Hospital Association.

A new approach to combat the opioid crisis, with a 70 percent success rate in other parts of Missouri, will launch in Boone County Sept. 1.

"It's very different than a traditional approach to managing individuals through their addiction," Dillon said.

The new program, called Engaging Patients In Care Coordination, or EPIC, connects patients with more than just medications. 

"We’ve tried to develop a program where we can surround the resources around that individual so we lessen the chances of them having another episode," Dillon said. 

Patients will be connected with a peer coach who sticks with them through their entire recovery process. The coach would make sure the individual is getting the services they need and offer encouragement that Dillon said is necessary for recovery.

"Many of these peer coaches are people who have suffered through this themselves, so they can speak to it in a way that the average person may not be able to," he said.

In addition to the support of peer coaches, EPIC will take a "medication first" approach. Emergency rooms will be supplied with buprenorphine, a drug that curbs addiction and reduces withdrawal symptoms. It can mimic the high of being on opioids without the harmful effects of the narcotics.

"The hardest part for most people who have this addiction is to bridge that extreme withdrawal that occurs when someone is trying to get off opioids," Dillon said. 

Shannon Crowley-Einspahr, director of addiction recovery at Compass Health, said it is important to give patients the tools to recover before they leave the emergency room. 

"If they are discharged from emergency departments without any kind of follow up care, they are at higher risk for overdose," she said. 

Patients will receive a three to five day supply of medication to bridge the gap between being discharged and going to a rehab facility. 

The EPIC model is used in St. Louis and has been successful, according to Dillon and Crowley-Einspahr. 

Two-thousand people have received the treatment with a success rate at 70 percent.

Missouri is the only state without a state-wide prescription drug monitoring program, although some towns have implemented their own.

"We have a long way to go," Dillon said. "We have lagged behind in the policy commitment to addressing this."