How One Central Iowa Community Health Center is Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

April 02, 2018

The opioid epidemic has greatly affected many people across Iowa and the United States. In response to the rapidly growing epidemic, one health center in central Iowa is leading the charge to combat this opioid addiction by providing Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is an intervention using medication to stop the cravings of someone who wants to get off addicting drugs, such as heroin or prescription opioids (pain killers). It requires special training and special license to prescribe the most common MAT medication, Suboxone. By keeping users from experiencing cravings and withdrawal, Suboxone can make it easier for addicts to stay off heroin and other opioids. PHC has been offering MAT services for almost two years and currently has three physicians offering the service in Ames, Des Moines and Marshalltown.

There are strict protocols around the patients that participate in this program. The integrated behavioral health and MAT programs work together to ensure that patients are using the medications appropriately as well as getting the counseling that goes along with making MAT a successful treatment option. PHC has also partnered with local substance abuse agencies to bring their counselors into our clinic sites. Patients treated should be able to refrain from further drug use, and with the complementary counseling, explore and address the reasons behind their drug use. Ultimately, the goal would be to slowly get off the medication and return to a normal life.

Iowa ranks far behind many states in providing this service. Many patients drive long distances as there may not be a similar service near them. PHC is working closely with many community partners to educate, be a part of the conversation and work towards a solution as it relates to the opioid epidemic facing our state. See below for links to publications and broadcasts where PHC providers lent their expertise on this topic.

  • View the Facebook livestream of the Opioid Town Hall, PHC’s Dr. Alan Bollinger was on panel including several Story County community leaders and stakeholders, on January 10, 2018.
  • PHC's behavioral health consultant, Austin Cross, participated in a round table discussion on opioid addiction in Story County on KHOI Radio. Listen online, click on the 7:00am "Local Talk" segment for January 5. The discussion begins around 13:10 of the broadcast.
  • Read the article, “Denial: The Greatest Barrier to the Opioid Epidemic” by Dr. Nicole Gastala, published in the July/August 2017 issue of Annals of Family Medicine.
  • Read the New York Times article that highlight the MAT program at PHC Marshalltown, published in January of 2017.

Bery Engebretsen, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Primary Health Care, Inc.