A team from WSU Health Sciences landed a $1.9 million federal grant to expand an innovative opioid education program into rural health-care clinics and to faculty and students statewide.

The project is designed to get teams of people – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers and chemical dependency counselors – to work together when treating people who use opioids. Without consistent communication, a health care professional might miss the signs that a patient who uses prescribed opioids is becoming dependent, or that he or she has begun to acquire the drugs illegally.

The five-year grant will train faculty at programs statewide using interprofessional simulations developed in the earlier, state-funded program. Faculty included on the grant and students from WSU Health Sciences will work in a train-the-trainer model to disseminate the program to about 1,700 students working in interprofessional teams. Primary-care practice teams from 43 rural clinics across the state will receive on-site training.

The name of the grant-funded project is Rethinking Education on Substance use through inter-Professional Education and Rural Community Training (RESPECT).

The lead scientist on the grant is a general internist, Dr. Dawn DeWitt, professor and associate dean for clinical education at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. The project team includes WSU faculty who were part of the state-funded initiative that created the interprofessional curriculum for health science students: Barbara Richardson, PhD, RN, of the College of Medicine, who led the original project; Connie Remsberg, PhD, PharmD, of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Brenda Bray, MPH, BPharm, of the College of Medicine; and Marian Wilson, PhD, MPH, RN from the College of Nursing. Included on the RESPECT team are Janet Purath, PhD, RN, and Tracey Klein, PhD, RN, both of the College of Nursing; Matt Layton, PhD, MD from the College of Medicine; and Health Policy and Administration faculty Jae Kennedy and Elizabeth Wood, who will help revise the curriculum as policy updates occur to keep it relevant for working professionals. Craig Fischer and Janet Walker, MD, also of the College of Medicine, will lead aspects of the projects that address clinician burnout and leadership.

“In five years we hope that we will have disseminated the curriculum across the state in a train-the-trainer model,” DeWitt said. “We hope providers will feel more comfortable working as a team and helping patients. If we’re successful, those two things should increase provider awareness and confidence, thus increasing capacity for care of patients with addiction issues across the state.”

Among the project’s goals is to reduce the stigmatization that makes some patients avoid seeking care, and to make clear each team member’s roles and responsibilities. For instance, if a patient’s spouse confesses concern to a pharmacist, the pharmacist needs to pass along that information to the appropriate team members. Teams will also take part in interactive sessions using actors known as standardized patients.

The RESPECT training program also will include a virtual support and consultation group for rural primary-care providers, to address possible burnout or isolation in their treatment of patients with opioid dependence.

DeWitt said the interprofessional makeup of the research team and its statewide reach reflects the goals of the project.

“The wonderful thing about WSU is our statewide presence, especially in the health sciences,” DeWitt said. “Our research team has connections with multiple agencies statewide. We think WSU is ideally suited to provide this training.”