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Improved Care for Rural Opioid Addicts

CU School of Medicine


Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have been awarded a federal grant to improve the care of rural patients with opioid addictions.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) announced last week it would provide about $3 million to fund a project called “Implementing Technology and Medication Assisted Team Training and Treatment in Rural Colorado.” Jack Westfall, MD, professor of family medicine, is the principal investigator on the grant.

Westfall will lead a team partnering with community members in 24 counties in eastern and southern Colorado to develop an approach that specifically addresses the needs of those communities.

“Over the past 5 years, the High Plains Research Network has identified opioid use disorder as a primary concern of physicians, medical practices, and community members,” Westfall said. “Colorado data support these concerns. Seven of the counties in our proposed project have drug overdose rates greater than 20 per 100,000, placing them among the highest rates in the nation.”

The team will provide primary care practices with comprehensive training and support, including face-to-face practice coaching and the Project ECHO teletraining model. Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) is a statewide program of training and practice support to assist in managing complex health care problems. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, is evidence-based therapy for assisting people with opioid addiction in primary care offices. MAT involves using both medications and behavioral support to empower people to manage their addiction. The trouble is that many primary care physicians find it difficult to introduce MAT into their practice.

The grant to the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine was one of three awards, totaling $9 million, announced by AHRQ. The other awards are to the American Institutes of Research in partnership with the State of Oklahoma, Project ECHO from New Mexico, and expert consultants from the American Society for Addiction Medicine and to the Pennsylvania State Department of Human Services in partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the University of Pittsburgh.