University of Missouri Health Care has a new program aimed at helping opioid overdose patients long after they leave the emergency room.
The program is a result of a partnership between MU Health Care’s emergency physicians, the Missouri Hospital Association and area addiction centers. Doctors and health officials are still working out the final details, but expect it to be up and running by the end of the year.
The program provides opioid overdose patients with immediate medication to ease their physical addiction and connects them with long-term addiction treatment.
Vincent Bunnell, a recovered heroin addict, said he relapsed more than a dozen times during his heroin recovery.
“I would try to go to the ER to get help and they would give me fluids and say that’s pretty much all they could do,” Bunnell said.
Jonathan Heidt, the medical director of the emergency department at MU Health Care, said stories such as Bunnell’s are the reason he brought the new treatment program to the hospital.
He said in the past doctors did not have options — they would see patients relapse time and time again.
“We would see the patient, patch them up and then discharge them and know they would be back. It was frustrating,” Heidt said.
He said now he can help his patients achieve a full recovery. Heidt said the program, called Engaging Patients in Care Coordinating, or EPICC, provides a comprehensive, medication-assisted addiction program.
He said first doctors stabilize the patient then prescribe medication to counteract withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings and connect them with counselors and a rehabilitation center.
The program has proven successful in St. Louis over the last two years, with 60 percent of patients there still in the treatment after three months.
Heidt said this is the first time he can actually do something to help these patients.
“I can actually get them treatment and the medication they need to help it,” Heidt said. “With our goal being not to have to tell family members anymore that their loved one’s coming to our ER and they’re dying and there was nothing about it we could do before, but now we can do something …”
Heidt said plans are in place to expand the program to Kansas City and Springfield. It’s funded through a federal grant managed by the Missouri Hospital Association which means it’s free or low-cost to patients who choose to participate.
The CDC in a new report said Missouri is one of 20 states with higher than average drug overdose death rates. The state is the only one that does not have a prescription drug monitoring program.
According to the Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, 16 Boone County residents died of an opioid overdose in 2017. In 2016, there were 12.
According to the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office, there have been 13 opioid-related fatalities, so far, in 2018.