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Editorial Spotlights Amerigroup-A&M Partnership Targeting Opioid Abuse

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Amerigroup is working with Texas A&M University to address the opioid crisis in Texas.

Amerigroup Texas and the Texas A&M Health Opioid Task Force joined forces to create the EMPOWER TeleECHO Clinic. This initiative reaches into communities that urgently need solutions to the opioid crisis, connecting local providers with addiction care experts who provide training and guidance on how to best help people who are struggling with opioid abuse.

The partnership has been especially crucial as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths in communities across the state. That was the subject of a recent guest editorial, written by Amerigroup Texas President and CEO Greg Thompson and Texas A&M University Opioid Task Force Co-Chair Joy Alonzo, that was published in the Austin American-Statesman this week.

Click here for the full editorial. Here is an excerpt:

More than 75,000 Americans died from opioid abuse during the 12 months ending in April 2021, up from 56,000 the year before, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In our state, one out of every five Texans has experienced an opioid overdose or knows someone who has, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

To address this crisis, we must understand its relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, the initial lockdown in 2020 may have helped slow the spread of the virus. But the increased isolation, lack of social connections and job shortages that it brought also played a role in the tragic increase in opioid use, addiction, and death.

Second, health care workers, already overwhelmed by COVID-19, were left equally overwhelmed and often underprepared to treat patients with opioid use disorder.

This was made even worse by an overall decline in the number of health care workers throughout the state. In 2019, 129 of Texas’ 254 counties faced a shortage of primary care physicians. By July of 2021, this number had dramatically increased to 228 counties. Rural counties were hit especially hard and are the exact places where opioid abuse has been a crisis for years.

We can help mitigate this crisis by better empowering these overwhelmed, overworked, understaffed local health care providers. By providing them with additional knowledge about addiction and treatment—and a network of experts and peers dealing with similar issues—we can help them treat patients even more effectively.

The partnership also was profiled in a public radio story last year. Click here to learn more.

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