Addressing the rise in opioid deaths: Partnerships provide expanded care, save lives in Yakima

The rate of opioid overdose death is accelerating, sounding alarm bells for an already dire issue. Recognizing that 2020 was a record year for opioid-related deaths in Washington and across the U.S., with 2021 set to continue the trend, the teams at Comprehensive Healthcare and Yakima Valley Memorial recently joined together to launch new cohesive prevention and treatment efforts.

“It’s no secret the opioid epidemic has ravaged our community and many others. For us at the emergency department at Yakima Valley Memorial, we are seeing many overdoses where it’s not the client’s first visit for overdosing, and I realized there is a lot more we can do in terms of prevention,” said Dr. Brian Padilla, an emergency medical specialist at Yakima Valley Memorial leading the partnership with Comprehensive Healthcare.

Dr. Padilla and his team at Yakima Valley Memorial connected with Comprehensive Healthcare’s Hospital Liaison and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Frank Garner, building on an existing professional partnership that has supported community members in the Yakima area for years by bridging and expanding access to care across the two providers.

In late 2020, Comprehensive Healthcare expanded its opioid treatment wraparound services in Yakima with a new Suboxone treatment option to stop drug cravings, with plans to duplicate the same services at their other outpatient locations once program specifics and workflows were finalized. One of the goals of this new expansion was to allow other providers to dispense Suboxone at locations outside of Comprehensive Healthcare – and in April, Yakima Valley Memorial became one of the first partner sites.

“It’s our hope to help as many people as possible with this partnership. If we can help even just one person by providing Suboxone, we’re saving someone’s life,” said Dr. Padilla.

Suboxone is specifically for individuals in withdrawal. Often, individuals may be experiencing pain through the withdrawal process, and intervention with Suboxone helps interrupt that discomfort, on top of providing a more affordable and safer course of action than street drugs.

Clients who enter the Suboxone program through Yakima Valley Memorial can be prescribed and given a dosage of Suboxone right then and there. An ED provider then refers that patient to Comprehensive Healthcare for continued, follow-up care. All individuals entering Medication for Opioid Use Disorders programs at Comprehensive Healthcare are assigned a counselor and medical provider, with additional options including treatment groups or group therapy; this sustained, integrated approach supports better outcomes.

“We’re the behavioral health complement to Dr. Padilla’s emergency care team at Yakima Valley Memorial,” said Dr. Garner of Comprehensive Healthcare. “Normally, anyone can get some level of treatment for withdrawals at emergency departments, but we’ve seen that if they’re not followed up with right away, there’s higher risk the individual finds street drugs and fentanyl. Our partnership lowers that risk.”

The connection with the emergency department at Yakima Valley Memorial is especially important for clients because it provides an additional distribution point to broaden access for community members in Yakima. With the added Suboxone option and Comprehensive Healthcare’s support, individuals have an expanded continuum of care to keep individuals in recovery and off street drugs.

“We’re enthusiastic about this endeavor. We know there is a lot more we can be doing for our community, and we know this needs to be done to benefit Yakima,” said Dr. Padilla. “Starting this program to treat opioid addiction is just one of many necessary steps we need to do to improve the health of the community we all call home.”

Yakima Valley Memorial began treating individuals under this partnership at the beginning of April, and Comprehensive Healthcare in Ellensburg launched their Suboxone program on April 20. In Walla Walla, Comprehensive Healthcare providers are already able to prescribe Suboxone and anticipate dispensing it directly to clients when construction on their new Secure Withdrawal Management and Stabilization Facility is complete. Sunnyside, Goldendale, and White Salmon divisions are also firming up plans to begin prescribing Suboxone.

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