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KU School of Medicine-Wichita receives $200K grant for substance abuse education

August 26, 2020

Woman puts head in her hands next to pills on counter

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

With a recent $200,000 federal grant, the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita has started offering substance abuse education as part of its training for the school's medical students and residents, as well as area practicing physicians.

The two-year grant is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant is filling a critical need in training medical providers who are treating patients struggling with addictions, particularly those related to opioid use, said Daniel Warren, M.D., assistant professor with the Department of Family & Community Medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

Ever since Warren - who is board certified in addiction medicine through the American Board of Preventive Medicine - joined the KU School of Medicine-Wichita faculty in 2017, it's been a department goal to beef up substance abuse education, he said. This grant is "kickstarting" that training, Warren said.

It's much-needed training for a public health issue that has become widespread in the U.S.

The National Institutes of Health considers the misuse and addiction to opioids - including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl - a "serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare," according to its website.

In 2017, about 1.7 million people aged 12 and older had a prescription pain reliever use disorder in the past year, according to the 2018 publication "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Spotlight on Opioids." During that same time period, about 652,000 people 12 and older were estimated to have a heroin use disorder.

Fentanyl use, in particular, is growing, said Warren, who is also the medical director at a Wichita methadone clinic and sees patients at a Federally Qualified Health Center in Wichita.

"There's really been a dramatic turn in the use of opioids due to fentanyl because it's cheaper and more readily available," Dr. Warren said.

With the SAMSHA grant, KU School of Medicine-Wichita medical students will have opportunities to add substance abuse education to their training, primarily through a clinical elective. Warren is also hosting medical residents during rotations and providing continuing medical education sessions for health care professionals.

Shannon Loeck, M.D., an attending psychiatrist with the Emergency Department at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph and a clinical instructor with the KUSM-Wichita Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, said, "The need for education on substance abuse is vital."

It can be hard to treat patients with substance use disorder since many don't seek treatment or the help they need, say medical professionals. And when they do, physicians may not be prepared to provide the treatment and some may "pass along negative perceptions to trainees," according to a CME course description by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. That can lead to substance users being stigmatized.

Raghuveer Vedala, M.D., said he noticed such a stigma during his practice as a family medicine resident with KUSM-Wichita. He was one of the first residents to sign up for a rotation with Warren under the new SAMSHA grant-funded training program.

"There was always some physician bias when it came to these patients. I think part of that has to do with it being misunderstood. It is a difficult disorder to fully comprehend. It's often depicted in a clinical setting as the patient's ‘own doing,'" said Vedala. "I wanted to get past that. I wanted to understand what a patient with substance abuse disorder was going through. I wanted to be able to empathize with the patient. And to be able to do that, I needed a better understanding of the disorder itself. Plain and simple. I needed to be in a clinical setting where these patients are received in a nonjudgmental manner where I could learn from them firsthand what they are experiencing."

As he spent time with Warren and his patients, he gained an entirely different view of the disorder, said Vedala, who is joining the University of Oklahoma Family Medicine residency program as a faculty member and clinical physician in September.

"It removed that stigma and helped me see these patients as patients," he said.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: Aug 26, 2020
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Belinda Venters

KU School of Medicine–Wichita
Public Affairs
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214

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