HOUSTON (Sept. 28, 2021) — A patient tearfully tells Dr. Mohammad Zare at one of Harris Health System’s community health centers how her life would’ve been so different had she received timely treatment for her opioid addiction. For one, she would still have a home and custody of her child.
Heart-wrenching stories like this are what drive Zare, faculty physician at Harris Health, and vice president of community affairs and associate professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, and Jennifer LaHue, director, Nursing Strategic Initiatives and Clinical Informatics at Harris Health’s Ambulatory Care Services, project leaders of Harris Health’s primary care opioid treatment program.
“We know this program is helping people regain control of their lives and get back on their feet,” Zare says.
As proof of the program’s success, the federal government recently awarded Harris Health a $2.625 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to continue and expand its services. The 5-year grant will allow upwards of 1,050 people facing addiction problems to receive vital help. In particular, the program enables caregivers to connect with patients who are incarcerated or recently released from the Harris County Jail.
“Patients who were receiving care with us, but who ended up in jail for one reason or another, were now potentially out of care for long periods of time,” LaHue says. “Once they’re out of treatment with us and not doing well, many are at risk of relapse and overdose.”
Unfortunately, she adds many also end up in hospital emergency centers or die. The aim of the program is to offer patients greater access and continuous care. Through the grant, a nurse care manager and physician oversee the care of every participant. Additionally, a multidisciplinary group that includes psychiatrists, behavioral therapists, social workers/case managers, patient educators, pharmacists and information technology specialists offer their support.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 94,000 fatal overdoses occurred in 2020, an almost 31% increase from 2019.
“Americans battling substance use disorders and their families, deserve easily accessible, culturally appropriate, and effective treatment options and recovery supports,” says Xavier Becerra, secretary, U.S. Health and Human Services, of the $123 million SAMHSA grants awarded to various programs nationwide.
Harris Health and its medical school partner, McGovern Medical School, opened an office-based addiction treatment program at Acres Home Health Center in 2017. Modeled after a successful Massachusetts effort, the program treats patients with substance use disorder in a family practice setting and emphasizes treating addiction similar to treating patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or heart problems.
“Our approach is to take care of the whole patient from a physical, behavioral and mental health, as well as psychosocial, perspective,” LaHue adds.
The office-based addiction treatment program at Harris Health was one of six programs piloted nationwide, and the only one in Texas, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Kaiser Permanente. Additionally, the program received a two-year $1 million grant from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
“We are diligent in the implementation of evidence-based practice models of care and are constantly improving our clinical care delivery through technology, partnerships with community resources, education and research,” LaHue says of the program’s successful track record.
For information on substance use or addiction treatment resources, call SAMHSA’s 24/7 National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) or visit findtreatment.gov.