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HANFORD – Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl - a powerful synthetic opioid, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The addiction also is known to bring instability and chaos to the entire family.

To help combat opioid usage in Kings County and surrounding areas, Adventist Health Hanford applied for and received a $175,000 grant from the California Bridge Program to provide access to around-the-clock treatment for substance use disorders.

"This grant will establish a seamless process for providing patients with opioid use disorder, who want to stop using opioids or heroin, the treatment and support they need," says Dr. John Zweifler, medical director for clinical integration and graduate medical education for Adventist Health services in the Central Valley. Zweifler also serves as the primary care clinical champion for the grant.

Treatment includes administering a dose of the medication buprenorphine to ease severe symptoms of withdrawal before patients leave the emergency department. This support bridges the patient to Adventist Health’s medical offices for follow-up care. Studies show that patients who receive the option of addiction treatment medication are more likely to remain in care than those who are simply referred to an addiction treatment program on their own.

"By suppressing withdrawal long enough to create a bridge for patients to enter and remain in treatment, physicians can save lives," says Dr. Andrew Herring, director of Emergency Department Services for the Bridge program. "We know this model works, and now we are bringing it to hospitals and emergency rooms all across the state that are anxious for real solutions to address the enormous pain and suffering they see every day caused by the opioid epidemic."

Only 31 out of the 80 emergency departments in California that applied for the grant, received funding, which helped Adventist Health do the following:

• Identify a physician champion (Dr. Marc Lasher, addiction medicine specialist) to train and consult emergency department physicians and staff on how to identify and treat patients with an overdose or addiction disorder.

• Identify a department champion (Dr. Michael Boulton, emergency medicine physician)

• Appoint an acting substance abuse coordinator (Davinna Cavasos) to provide extra care and attention to patients and assure follow-up care with Lasher in an outpatient setting (Adventist Health Medical Office - Hanford Specialty).

• Provide technical assistance (telehealth) to improve and increase access to facility-wide treatment and referral of acute symptoms of substance abuse disorders.

"Having such a well-established process will help eliminate the barriers we face in getting people facing addiction into treatment, so they can move forward with their lives," says Lasher. "Instead of referring people to a treatment program, we're treating them right there in the emergency room and scheduling them for follow-up care."

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