Virtual medication-assisted therapy (MAT) provider Ophelia Health Inc. has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing to prepare more clinicians to care for people struggling with opioid addiction.
The program, launched in January, also aims to put students who join the pilot program at the UPenn nursing school on the path toward receiving an X-waiver from the federal government, according to a statement from Ophelia Health, which specializes in treating opioid use disorder (OUD).
UPenn nursing school students will work with and shadow experienced clinicians to complete the live portion of the X-waiver requirements. Up to 90-percent of the program is immersive clinician shadowing, which allows the students to learn non-stigmatizing tactics for treating OUD and provides exposure to patients, the statement reads.
So far, students have already completed over 200 shadow hours.
It’s not clear how many students are expected to participate in the program. A request for further comment has not yet been returned as of press time.
An X-waiver allows prescribing health care providers to administer MAT, a vital treatment tool for those struggling with opioid addiction. The U.S. has a notable shortage of providers that have the training and certification to administer MAT such as buprenorphine despite the need for more opioid and addiction-focused treatment.
Overdose deaths in the U.S. have risen to over 105,000 for a 12-month period ending in October, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the overdose deaths were from opioids.
However, only about 102,600 clinicians, less than 5%, of the more than 1.7 million physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and clinical psychologists licensed to prescribe medications in the U.S. have X-waivers, the statement reads. And many providers that do have an X-waiver are capped at caring for 30 patients at a time.
About 40% of all U.S. counties have no X-waivered providers.
“I have seen patients get turned away from the only primary care clinic in a rural county because neither the clinic nor the provider was equipped to offer this first-line treatment,” Emily Behar, vice president of clinical operations for Ophelia Health, said in the statement, “I have listened to countless stories from patients saying that their drug dealer is the only local suboxone source in their town. … This is not sustainable, this is not equitable, and this is not good healthcare.”
In Pennsylvania, 13 of 67 counties (19%) are in high need of treatment services while 36 counties have fewer than 10 X-waivered providers.
Pennsylvania also ranked eighth in the U.S. in drug overdose death rate at 42.4 per 100,000 of the state’s population and fourth in the total number of deaths at about 5,200 in 2020, according to the CDC.
“This program reaffirms our commitment to serving even the most vulnerable communities in our city, and we look forward to a great collaboration that will provide the necessary tools that clinicians need to make a difference,” Behar said. “We expect that this collaboration will establish a replicable model for other schools across the country.”