Connections April 2016 - From the CEO's Desk

From the CEO's Desk

In celebration of my 25th work anniversary with the Tennessee Primary Care Association, I set a personal goal to visit every Community Health Center in Tennessee during 2016.

In early April, I traveled to eight health centers in East Tennessee, logging 900 miles and taking in the breathtaking beauty of spring in the Tennessee mountains. These visits provided me with an opportunity to connect with health center leaders and to learn about their health centers' accomplishments and challenges.

Community Health Center leaders are deeply rooted in the life of their communities, and talking with them provides a snapshot of a troublesome problem in our state. During these visits, I heard stories about the ravaging impact of opioid addiction in rural Tennessee. I heard about a vulnerable newborn who, soon after birth, faced withdrawing from the drugs that his mother had taken during pregnancy. There are stories of displaced children entering care in a strained foster care system and families broken apart. Tennesseans who are uninsured and those on Medicaid are also susceptible to heroin addiction, as the substance offers a cheaper alternative to filling costly prescriptions. One study reports that healthcare costs for opioid abusers are eight times higher than for non-abusers. Addiction is a problem with high economic and human costs.

The CDC is advising states to implement strategies such as improving access and insurance coverage for medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. Expanding access and training for naloxone administration to reverse overdose is an important strategy. Tennessee has seen a significant drop in patients seeking painkiller prescriptions after legislation passed in 2012 required prescribers to check the state's prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing them. This prescription monitoring program helps to detect physician and pharmacy shopping. The CDC ruled this Tennessee strategy a success, calling it a best practice.

In this issue of Connections, we highlight the work of several health centers that are addressing substance abuse. The HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded grants to health centers to increase the number of patients screened for substance use disorders and connected to treatment, increase the number of patients with access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use and other substance use disorder treatment, and provide training and educational resources to help health professionals make informed prescribing decisions.

There are many physical, psychological and social factors that contribute to substance abuse. Uncovering and addressing the underlying causes adds to the complexity of responding to this problem. Community Health Centers are working hand-in-hand with other partners to find a solution for their communities.

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We want to help share information about what's going on at your health center. Please send your news and photos to Terri Woodmore at terri.woodmore@tnpca.org.