Health Center in Maine Addresses the Opioid Epidemic

Topic(s): Opioid Epidemic, Substance Use Disorder, Medication-Assisted Treatment, Health Care Quality
Geographic Location: Maine
Health Center: Penobscot Community Health Center
Date Posted: August 2018

Health Center Addresses the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) top priority since its declaration as a public health emergency in 2017. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is committed to supporting health centers with resources, training, and technical assistance to help battle opioid abuse. This unprecedented opioid crisis means health centers, like Penobscot Community Health Center (PCHC) in Maine, are critical leaders in this battle to combat opioid abuse.

In 2013, Felicity Homsted, Chief Pharmacy Officer at PCHC, became concerned about state-level data, showing an increase in drug overdoses and patients on long-acting and high-dose pain killers (medications most often associated with overdoses). She noticed that her health center “was overwhelmed by the prescription opioid epidemic.” At PCHC, the dosage of opioids prescribed to patients was extremely high; the average patient received daily doses associated with a nearly three-fold increase in opioid-related premature death risk. To combat these challenges, PCHC assembled an interdisciplinary team, the Controlled Substance Stewardship (CSS) committee, to focus on improving controlled substance prescribing and safety.

Since its creation in 2013, Homsted asserts that “the CSS committee has significantly reduced high risk prescribing of controlled substances.”  The number of patients on chronic opioids and benzodiazepines at PCHC was reduced by 67% (between October 2013 and March 2017) and 65% (between February 2014 and March 2017), respectively. Homsted reports those numbers continue to decline. 

Homsted exclaimed that this program aligns with the HHS strategy to support access to opioid-related treatment, prevention, and recovery, and “the committee has been a valuable resource for identifying patients with masked opioid use disorders and connecting them with treatment.” PCHC was awarded $175,700 in 2017 through the HRSA Access Increases in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Supplemental Funding and Substance Abuse Expansion Grant, and expanded the number of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) trained providers and increased the number of practice sites capable of offering treatment. As a result, PCHC provides specialized treatment to more and more patients for opioid use disorder. “Through the work of the CSS committee, in conjunction with a robust MAT treatment program, PCHC has become an innovative local leader in finding effective, evidence based solutions for the opioid epidemic,” states Homsted.

Health center activities and evidence-based approaches are a crucial part of the fight against opioid abuse, and support the HHS' strategy to address this epidemic. For more information about PCHC and their CSS committee initiative, check out PCHC’s article here or contact Felicity Homsted at 207-992-9200. For more on the national opioid crisis visit: https://www.hrsa.gov/opioids.

Date Last Reviewed:  September 2018