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Drexel Creates Center of Excellence to Address Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia

December 05, 2018

Philadelphia and Drexel Medicine skyline

With a $1.5 million three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Drexel University College of Medicine clinicians are undertaking an ambitious, wide-ranging project to address the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia, where 1,217 residents died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2017.

The funding, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within HHS, will allow the College of Medicine to create a Center of Excellence for Urban Integrated Opioid Use Disorder Healthcare.

The center will:

  • Expand and integrate addiction treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), for high-risk Drexel Medicine patients
  • Establish an Addiction Consultation Team to provide expert evaluation to at-risk patients in both inpatient and outpatient health care settings
  • Create a highly-trained group of peer specialists to help identify, engage, enroll and support at-risk individuals in the recovery process
  • Expand opioid use disorder educational programs to all Drexel health care providers, trainees, and affiliates

By 2020, the Drexel clinicians are seeking to engage at least 300 new individuals in medication- assisted treatment, as well as to reduce by half the number of patients engaged in treatment who use illicit opioids, as well as the number of opioid prescriptions prescribed by Drexel University Physicians.

“As a large, community-focused academic health center, with 490,000 patient visits in 2017, Drexel Medicine has a significant opportunity to expand opioid use disorder prevention and treatment,” said principal investigator Barbara Schindler, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Drexel’s College of Medicine.

Schindler is the founder and medical director of Drexel’s Caring Together Program, an outpatient treatment program based in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. The program, established in 1991, helps women with substance use disorders and their children overcome addiction through a multidisciplinary approach.

With the establishment of the OUD Center of Excellence, Caring Together is one of a number of Drexel programs that will be integrated to provide substance abuse treatment and training. Other programs include Drexel’s Opioid Safe Prescribing Task Force, the Emergency Medicine Department that provides medication-assisted treatment to patients, Drexel Medicine’s clinical practices, and Drexel’s Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice, which currently treats more than 1,700 HIV-positive individuals in the city.

Schindler said that education for health care workers, medical students and trainees will be a critical component of the HHS-funded project.

“Because I’ve worked in the field for a long time, educating patients and future clinicians about substance abuse is a passion of mine,” Schindler said. “I want to move addiction out of the social arena of medicine and into the mainstream area of medicine that includes diabetes, cardiac disease and cancer. If physicians start to view addiction as any other chronic disease, then we can really begin to solve this crisis.”