New initiative seeks to turn tide on opioid use disorder

Opioid crisis in the United States

Most of us know someone who has been touched by substance use disorder, if not in our practices, in our families, friends and communities.

Research has shown that substance use disorders are a leading cause of disease and death in the United States and directly cause cancer, overdose death, psychiatric disorders and suicide. In fact, the number of deaths each year from drug-related overdoses in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2000, with opioid overdose as the leading cause of accidental death. And for every substance-related death there are tens of thousands of other people struggling with substance use. It is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.

The good news is that substance use disorders are treatable with evidence-based treatments. And we, as health care providers, have the opportunity to turn the tide on this issue and save lives.

To do this, we must overcome three barriers. They include access to high-quality, evidence-based care for patients; affordable treatment; and awareness of helpful resources in a society in which substance use disorder is heavily stigmatized.

While the first two barriers are quite formidable, the third barrier may be the most difficult. Substance use concerns are often kept secret until a crisis occurs. Family members, friends and others may not know where to seek help or how to navigate our complex health care system. People struggling with substance use and their families likely fear judgment. These things make early screening and identification of substance use disorder a real problem.

We now have an opportunity to change these barriers into opportunities, and I am seeking your help.

UT Health San Antonio has just received a $7.2 million annual contract from the Health and Human Services’ Texas Targeted Opioid Response to create the Texas Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (TxMOUD) initiative. This initiative will help address the challenge of providing access to high-quality, lifesaving care to Texans regardless of their ability to pay.

Jennifer Sharpe Potter, Ph.D., M.P.H., will lead this effort. She is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and vice dean for research in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. She is a national expert in opioid use disorder research and care, and has been actively involved in local and state efforts.

Within the Bexar County Opioid Task Force, Dr. Potter created and led the San Antonio Substance Use Symposium, a communitywide forum to discuss solutions to the opioid crisis. After coordinating two annual symposiums on our campus, Dr. Potter has moved the 2020 symposium, to be held May 1-3, to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center to meet growing demand.

When it was learned that there were only 1,500 health providers in Texas qualified to prescribe buprenorphine, Dr. Potter obtained a $1 million state contract to create a streamlined training program to help doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants obtain the necessary DEA waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication for opioid use disorder that can be prescribed as an outpatient treatment.

Beginning in fall 2018, her team took the training to communities throughout the state. Just nine months later, more than 450 new providers have received the waiver through her successful GetWaiveredTX program.

The new TxMOUD initiative builds on this success by addressing critical needs. First, it provides training and technical assistance for health care providers who are treating or considering providing opioid use disorder treatment in their practices. Second, the initiative funds treatment and medications (buprenorphine and naltrexone) for underserved citizens in need. Third, TxMOUD serves as a platform for research that will benefit the residents of San Antonio, Bexar County and Texas.

We are proud to have a hand in turning the tide against opioid use disorder and ask that you join this collaborative effort so that TxMOUD will become not only a model for Texas, but also a blueprint for successful treatment throughout the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about TxMOUD, the San Antonio Substance Use Symposium, or becoming more involved with opioid use disorder research through UT Health San Antonio more broadly, please visit or call 210-450-5370. This is truly our opportunity, by working together, to make lives better.

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