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Local grant hopes to tackle opioid addiction in our local community

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Bethany Baker/Bethany Baker/ ISU Photo Service
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Dr. Steve Lawyer

Rachel McGovern talks with ISU Professor of Clinical Psychologist Dr. Steve Lawyer about an opportunity for local health professionals.

Authors Note: The information in this post has been adapted from the audio interview.

Former Sustainable Idaho host, Rachel McGovern, sits down with Dr. Steve Lawyer to discuss the impact of opioid addiction in our local community, as well as discuss the new resources that are available to our local health professionals. Dr. Lawyer is a Clinical Psychologist and a Professor of Psychology here at Idaho State university, and also serves as the director for the Idaho Rural Interdisciplinary Health Collaborative (IRIHC). IRIHC is a US Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)-funded grant project, administered through the ISU Psychology Department, whose mission is to use an evidence-based implementation framework, the Community-Based Learning Collaborative (CBLC) to develop a network of community stakeholders to improve trauma-informed, telehealth-enhanced behavioral health services for rural Idahoans. The program has a focus on improving prevention and treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) and its social determinants. This multi-year, $1.1 million grant is being used to train 21 doctoral psychology students and other community and agency partners in evidence-based, OUD relevant medication assisted treatment, telehealth, and trauma-informed behavioral healthcare to improve availability and accessibility of care to rural southeast Idahoans. We partner with multiple state, county, and community level stakeholders and brokers to accomplish our mission.

Currently there is a significant opioid problem not just in Pocatello, but also in the state of Idaho. In fact, the State of Idaho’s Office for Drug Policy has an opioid misuse and overdose strategic plan work group that has been focusing on the opioid crisis at the state level. Idaho’s workgroup has been highlighting some of the significant problems that are facing the state in the context of opioid use and abuse, and one of the issues that the workgroup is trying to address is the significant rise in drug overdose deaths in the last ten years. Opioid overdoses have increased sixfold here in the state of Idaho, and in the context of opioid abuse in general, the Centers for Disease control estimate that the economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone is $78.5 billion a year.

In trying to address this issue, the Idaho Rural Interdisciplinary Health Collaborative (IRIHC) is focused on trying to address a lot of the mental health care needs in Southeast Idaho, but with a particular focus on opioid use disorder. There is a profound need for more health care professionals, with Southeast Idaho itself representing one of the most underserved regions in the country in terms of behavioral health care service provisions. So, while the rates of substance use problems are the same as other rural counterparts across the country, the access to the necessary services is significantly diminished within our area. In fact, within Idaho’s 44 counties, 40 of them are designated as professional shortage areas. So broadly speaking, Idaho really has a need for more health care professionals that can address this significant raise in opioid use disorder.

The IRIHC grant itself is called a Graduate Psychology Education Grant Mechanism, and so there's a big training component for psychology students. However, it also provides community-based training in what's called Motivational Interviewing, which is an evidence-based practice that's broadly used and broadly effective to help people with substance use problems, physical health, and mental health problems. These trainings are available for anyone in healthcare that interacts with individuals with mental health and substance use related problems, and so that could mean physicians, nurses, counselors, and certainly psychologists and social workers that work in these settings. But the training is also designed to work with those people who are providing direct behavioral health care and the leaders in those organizations. So, one of the things that the training focuses on is trying to work with leaders who are running clinics to provide the infrastructure that will make these given treatments effective. This means working with the front-end staff, such as administrators, who interact with the patients. Addressing opioid use disorder is quite multidimensional and requires significant coordinated care at multiple levels. Thus, IRIHC is really looking at providing opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds.

For anybody who might be interested, IRIHC will be hosting Motivational Interviewing Training Workshops free to the public. On September 9th and 10th of this year, IRIHC is doing their two-day beginner and intermediate Motivational Interviewing Training, which is top shelf training from someone who's nationally certified. On October 1st, they will be holding a one-day training for supervisors. All the training will be online, and all fees will be waived for the training. For more information or to sign up for the training, please contact IRIHC@isu.edu.

Jamon Anderson has served with KISU FM since 2003 in many capacities including show-host, newscaster, announcer, board operator, production specialist, engineering assistant, automation and programs manager. He is currently KISU's General Manager.