Wednesday, September 28, 2016

USDA grant creating telemedicine network to fight opioid addiction in rural Virginia

Rural Virginia will soon see the benefits of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to create telemedicine networks to fight the opioid epidemic. Funding is part of $1.4 million USDA announced in June for five rural Appalachian projects. Virginia was awarded $587,000 for two projects. One, which received $434,182, will help the Carillon Clinic's Roanoke-based Carilion Medical Center "deliver health care in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia, including 18 sites—15 of which are in StrikeForce counties" targeted for special help, says a USDA press release. Other projects are in Kentucky and Tennessee.

In Virginia, 4.6 percent of residents—about 380,000 people—are estimated to have abused opioids last year, Shefali Luthra reports for Kaiser Health News. Between January 2015 and March 2016, the state medical examiner's office recorded almost 600 deaths from prescription -opioid overdoses.

The epidemic has been particularly bad in rural areas, mostly because there are few options for help, Luthra writes. For example, in Giles County ( map) which has 17,000 people spread over 360 square miles, there are no treatment programs. The nearest ones are one county over, "more than 24 miles from Pearisburg, where the Giles County mental health clinic offers only basic counseling and child psychiatry. With no closer option for an adult psychiatrist, some local physicians have turned to telemedicine."

Giles County family physician Robert Devereaux said "the nearest physician who can prescribe suboxone is 30 miles away," Luthra writes. "That's an immense distance for patients of limited means, who may not be able to afford gas or may not even have a car. But given that Devereaux sees between 25 and 30 patients a day, many with multiple chronic illnesses, handling the medication regimen required to treat drug addiction is a responsibility he's not sure he could add."

Carillon, which runs the Carillon Giles Community Hospital in Giles County, "is pushing its doctors in rural counties to get licensed to prescribe suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction," Luthra writes. "Medical residents at the system's flagship hospital in Roanoke are required to get DEA certification, and the hospital is sending two specialists to its clinics to train interested providers."

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