A group of educators with Washington State University Health Sciences recently received a $1.9 million grant from the federal government to expand WSU’s opioid education program statewide.

The grant builds on a state-funded pilot program developed by WSU over the past few years that uses hands-on, team-oriented training methods for introducing new medication and counseling techniques to curb opioid addiction.

“Sadly (Washington is) way down there on the bottom in terms of behavioral and mental health provision because we just don’t have enough people to deliver training and to deliver care,” said Dawn DeWitt, a professor and associate dean of clinical education at WSU’s College of Medicine and the lead scientist on the grant. “This allows us to do a very low-cost, efficient, high-quality program that is an outreach program to already scarce providers who then don’t have to take two or three days off to go to a conference where they may or may not really learn something.”

DeWitt said the program deploys an innovative “train the trainer” model where participating students and faculty undergo training before disseminating the program to health care practitioners throughout the state. According to a WSU news release, about 1,700 students will bring on-site training to 43 rural clinics in Washington.

A key component to the program is what DeWitt calls “authentic interprofessional education.” Rather than putting everyone in a lecture hall together, the program has participants team up with students or health care practitioners from multiple disciplines to help solve a simulated health care case as a team. This includes a trained actor who takes on the role of a “standardized patient” engaging in dialogue and providing answers in real time, as a patient would. She said this exercise helps each member of the team better understand the role others play in the treatment of a patient addicted to opiates.

“As a provider you usually never see the other person doing their job. You don’t really truly understand what the conversation looks like,” DeWitt said. “So part of the idea of the simulations is that it helps give you a good understanding of what everybody’s role is.”

DeWitt said the program will also bring new information and new treatment strategies directly to clinicians. She said many physicians today were trained in an age when addiction was viewed as a failing of the individual. However, medicine has since come to view addiction as a disease in need of treatment, and medication-assisted cessation practices and new counseling techniques have been developed to complement this new model of understanding addiction.

“This grant is not going to solve the opioid crisis,” DeWitt said. “What it will do is educate thousands of students and physicians and nurse practitioners and pharmacists about what is the best way to help people avoid addiction and to help them through addiction.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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