HOUSTON (April 29, 2019)—Just how important is extra support from a clinical nurse in helping opioid addicts kick their deadly habit? That’s what a research project at Harris Health System, in collaboration with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), is trying to find out.
The office-based treatment program featuring a clinical nurse is the only such program in Texas, and one of only six sites testing its effectiveness nationwide.
Raquel Wright, RN, MSN, MBA, nurse care manager, has a small office at Harris Health’s Acres Home Health Center adorned with posters and flyers on addiction and ways to quit. Patients with opioid-use disorder, or addictions or who misuse hydrocodone, heroin and fentanyl may walk in for counseling and support. Through a combination of monitoring and the use of medications like buprenorphine-naloxone, patients are carefully and safely weaned off more dangerous opioids.
“The use of opioid substitution medications are well-known for alleviating withdrawal symptoms and the cravings associated with addiction,” Wright says. “I also offer support and coping techniques to get them through their addiction and stay sober.”
Participants in the program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, are not part of the research; the only aspect being examined is the effectiveness of a nurse care manager in the program. Harris Health and UTHealth officials want to determine whether nurse support helps treat more patients, resulting in positive treatment outcomes.
“Integrating patients’ treatment of opioid-use disorder into a primary care setting improves their access to comprehensive care and allows their condition to be managed like a chronic medical condition,” Wright adds.
Harris Health wants to enroll up to 100 participants in the program. To qualify, persons must be Harris Health patients who can either self-refer to the program or receive a program referral from their primary care physician.
“The problem of opioid addiction is real in our community,” says Dr. Mohammad Zare, chief of staff, Harris Health’s Ambulatory Care Services, and vice-chair, Community Affairs, UTHealth. “Having this type of program available for our patients is a great initiative. As we help them with their addiction in this program, we’re also learning what we can do to help others with similar conditions.”
The program mirrors a successful nurse-care-management model used in Massachusetts. Researchers aim to replicate the care model’s success elsewhere. According to officials, patients treated using nurse support also can cut costs: $4-7 for treatments compared to $80,000 annually to incarcerate abusers.
An estimated 70,000 people die of drug addiction each year—more deaths than from gun or vehicular incidents, combined.
Harris Health System celebrates more than 53 years of championing better health for patients, their families and the community, connecting them to high-quality healthcare services with a focus on primary care, wellness and prevention through its network of 48 clinics, health centers, specialty locations and hospitals. Harris Health is a proud recipient of the prestigious National Committee for Quality Assurance designation for its patient-centered medical homes. Harris Health is staffed by nationally recognized physician faculty and residents from its medical school partners: Baylor College of Medicine; McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth); and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.