New funding could provide free medicine and doctor’s visits for opioid-addicted patients

Coalition’s goal is to change the entire way opioid disorder is treated in the state of Texas

SAN ANTONIO – It's a chance for people right here in San Antonio to change the entire way opioid disorder is treated in the state of Texas.

$7.2 million was just awarded to the team at UT Health San Antonio that is leading the state and nation in opioid addiction treatment.

The funding created a brand new collaborative called Texas Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (TxMOUD) initiative.

The unprecedented goal is to provide doctor’s visits and medications for free.

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Opioid Use Disorder is a diagnosed disease. Many people don't realize the medical condition is treatable with three FDA approved medications.

1. Methadone has been the standard treatment for opioid use disorder for a long time. It’s very regulated, and given in a controlled clinic.

2. Buprenorphine is in the same class as methadone, but can be taken orally every day at home. You need a visit to the doctor's office to be prescribed.

3. Naltrexone works differently chemically than the other two, but has the same proven benefits. It also needs to be prescribed at a clinic or doctor’s office.

Studies have shown 50 percent of patients who take buprenorphine have a lowered risk of overdose. 50 percent also have symptom relief.

"Those symptoms include consistent use of illicit drugs even though you know it's causing you harm, reduction in psychiatric symptoms, a reintroduction of social and occupational functioning," said UT Health San Antonio Dr. Jennifer Sharpe Potter.

Potter is a professor of psychiatry and vice dean for research in the Long School of Medicine at UT Health SA.

She is leading the largest training and technical assistance effort in Texas for opioid use disorder.

It was her team that just received $7.2 million from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The main use of the money will create an astounding level of access, by making the doctor's visits and the medication free.

"This is for individuals who are concerned they are entering an addictive cycle. For those individuals, imagine what it would be like if they could go to a primary care provider or a clinic and say I'm concerned I may have trouble with opioids… heroin or prescription medications… and get the treatment what they need," Dr. Potter said.

The TxMOUD initiative will also use a small part of the funding to train health care providers statewide, on how to prescribe these medications.

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Using the new funding will allow them to offer patients the free care.

Training doctors to prescribe drugs like Buprenorphine has been a years-long goal for Dr. Potter.

"Right now to prescribe buprenorphine, there is a waiver process. That has to do with a lot of the federal rules surrounding Methadone programs when they were originally started," she explained.

To get that DEA X-waiver, doctors need an additional 16 hours of training. Nurse practitioners and physicians assistants need 24 hours of training.

“There are many of us who think that’s excessive,” Potter said.

Medical professionals who agree, want the law changed so it will be easier for doctors nationwide to prescribe the life-saving treatment. That’s why a campaign was created, called “X the X-Waiver.”

While that campaign continues to attempt to cut the red tape requiring this training, Potter and her team have been driving state wide to train doctors themselves. They called the program Get Waivered Texas, and since June they have trained about 700 healthcare providers, many in small rural areas. The program has been so successful that Nebraska has followed suit, and other cities and states are reaching out with interest.

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Potter believes her multi-pronged approach is working.

“It’s a story of hope in the sense that we’ve got the resources and if people seek treatment they get better,” Potter said.

If you want more information on where to access the medication, or if you’re a health care provider interested in partnering with the TxMOUD initiative, head to the coalition’s new website.

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