News From Our Leaders

MOC Co-Principal Investigator Named Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship Program Director at University of Michigan Addiction Center

October 1, 2021

On September 22, 2021, Dr. Lewei Allison Lin was announced as the new director for the University of Michigan Addiction Center Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship Program. Former MOC Consulting Physician, Dr. Edward Jouney, lead the program until July 2021, when he was accepted to the U-M Center Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship program. We wish Dr. Lin and Dr. Jouney well in their new roles!

“We are one of only two addiction psychiatry programs in the Michigan and there are only a few in the Midwest…I’m looking forward to continuing to grow our program to train the best addiction physicians.”

Dr. Lewei Allison Lin

MOC Physician, Dr. Jonathan Morrow, recognized as one of the 1,000 inspiring Black scientists in America

October 1, 2021

The Community of Scholars published an article at Cell Mentor last year celebrating the strides Black scientists have made in the scientific community in the last. MOC’s own, Dr. Jonathan Morrow was recognized in the list along with many other incredible scientists dedicated to advancing the field. 

“This post is for the present, but it is also a foundation of the future.”

Read more of the story here!

Treatment Barrier Falls, but More Remain, for People with Opioid Issues

May 21, 2021

Policy shift could improve access to buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, but stigma and training still pose significant challenge

Millions of times a day, patients across America get prescriptions for medicines to treat their diabetes, asthma, pain, depression, infections and many more conditions. 

Any physician or other licensed provider can prescribe any patient any medication on the market – including drugs that come with serious risks or potential side effects. 


If they want to write a prescription for a medicine that’s proven to help people with opioid use disorder – commonly called opioid addiction – those providers need to jump through extra hoops. 

The drug is buprenorphine. It’s also an opioid, but it can aid in blocking the action of other opioid drugs – from prescription drugs like oxycodone to heroin — and help a person overcome the drive to keep using those other substances, without causing a powerful ‘high’ of its own.


A big change

Recently, the federal government removed one of the biggest hurdles to buprenorphine prescribing. Prescribers no longer have to go through hours of carefully scripted special training before they can seek permission to offer it. And those who prescribe it to less than 30 patients no longer have to certify that they can connect patients to additional counseling.

It’s a big policy change, and one that the addiction medicine community had lobbied for. 

But experts from the University of Michigan and elsewhere say it’s not the only thing that needs to happen in order to increase the chances that more of the millions of Americans with opioid use disorder can get access to this evidence-based treatment.

“Removing some of the requirements for prescribers who are going to treat a modest number of patients is a step in the direction of reducing barriers, but doesn’t overcome the degree to which medical training for addiction is inadequate,” says Amy Bohnert, Ph.D., M.H.S., a health care researcher in the Michigan Medicine Department of Anesthesiology who has studied opioid use disorder care for more than a decade. “In the long run, hopefully this change will combat the perception that buprenorphine is a more dangerous medication than other opioids, or that addiction treatment should only be provided by specialists.”

Even with the changes, providers still need to apply for and receive a special status called an X waiver with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency before they can prescribe buprenorphine. That’s separate from the DEA license that most providers receive, which allows them to prescribe other “scheduled” drugs like opioid pain medications. And there are still limits and conditions on how many patients they can prescribe buprenorphine to in a year.

Thuy Nguyen, Ph.D., M.P.A., a health economist in the U-M School of Public Health who studies buprenorphine prescribing by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, agrees. 

“Although this is a significant federal effort to expand access to opioid use disorder treatment, it may not be adequate to address important provider and patient barriers such as stigma and lack of care coordination,” she says. “In a recent publication, we found that the effects of the 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in expanding access to buprenorphine through nurse practitioner prescribing appear relatively small, especially in states with more restrictive scope-of-practice regulations. The findings suggest that there are other important barriers, besides statutory requirements, that must also be addressed to expand treatment access.”


A prescriber shortage

U-M experts say one of the biggest barriers is the chronic shortage of providers who are willing to even start the process of getting up and running with buprenorphine prescribing. And even if they jump through all the hoops, many never actually prescribe a single dose. 

Bohnert and addiction psychiatrist Allison Lin, M.D., M.S. co-lead an effort that’s trying to overcome that shortage. 

The Michigan Opioid Collaborative offers a range of services to providers across Michigan and beyond who want to offer buprenorphine and other medication-assisted treatment for addiction, and supports them as they offer that care. It’s funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U-M Department of Psychiatry. Sheba Sethi, M.D., a primary care physician, is the program’s lead physician.

Chris Frank, M.D., Ph.D., is a U-M family physician involved in MOC. He says the demand for the program’s free training has been strong – and expects it to continue even though prescribers won’t be required to have it. 

If anything, he says, the lifting of the requirement for specific training frees the team up to adjust their training to suit the providers who want to offer buprenorphine and other medications for other types of substance use disorder in their practices, from treatment programs to primary care providers to emergency department teams. 

Keith Kocher, M.D., M.P.H., a U-M emergency medicine physician who leads a statewide quality initiative for emergency department teams called MEDIC, also welcomes the loosening of training requirements. MEDIC, together with the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, has held trainings across the state for several years, and is now planning for more this fall

“On the surface, this removes a big barrier to prescribing buprenorphine for ED providers – physicians and advanced practice providers,” says Kocher. “However, it will still likely require a nudge for ED providers to apply for the X waiver, and then begin to integrate buprenorphine more intentionally into their practice.”

Gina Dahlem, Ph.D., a nurse practitioner and researcher at the U-M School of Nursing, has also noted that some states do not yet include prescribing of buprenorphine in the scope of practice for nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Allowing such prescribing could also improve access to treatment. 


Fighting stigma

Both Kocher and Frank speak of the stigma associated with providing buprenorphine care. 

“The conditions around this treatment have created a sense that there’s something special or difficult about it, but it’s also a stigmatized patient population, though a lot of that is a misperception,” Frank says. “There are patients with substance use disorders who are ‘difficult’ but we treat lots of difficult diseases. And often when we actually treat their substance issues effectively those behaviors often improve or go away completely. 

“This is one of those areas of medicine where you really can see people’s lives completely turned around for the better,” he adds. “It’s not an easy quick fix, but we need to see this as a chronic medical condition like diabetes or hypertension.”

Some in the recovery community have hesitated or declined to add buprenorphine to their range of treatment options, focusing mainly on support for abstinence from opioids and situations where drugs are present. Some cite many patients’ need to stay on buprenorphine for months or years to support their recovery. 

But the same is true for people with Type 2 diabetes. While a few such patients can go off of medicines that control their blood sugar if they lose a lot of weight, dramatically increase exercise and change their diet, the majority of people can’t achieve a blood sugar target without long-term medication use as well.  

Some have also worried about possible diversion of buprenorphine from those who receive prescriptions, thinking they will sell it to others. But those who buy it from a non-prescriber source are often seeking it to treat themselves because they can’t access it in a health care setting, say Bohnert and others.

So, MOC is engaging more with professionals across the recovery community, to try to show how medication assisted treatment can be an important tool. 

Even once a provider has gotten started in prescribing buprenorphine, they often find they need help in tailoring the care to certain patients. 

That’s why MOC offers same-day help on an on-call basis, and also can offer addiction treatment specialists to take part via telemedicine in a patient’s scheduled visit with their prescriber. The program’s network of behavioral health consultants, located throughout the state, help make the connection between providers – and also help connect patients to local resources. 


Starting early – for providers and patients

For Pooja Lagisetty, M.D., M.Sc., another key aspect of increasing the supply of prescribers is to get them while they’re young. 

That’s why she’s led an effort over the past three years to train all U-M Medical School students to provide training in medication assisted treatment, so that they graduate with the knowledge they need to do it, and can apply for the X waiver once they are licensed. They may still need mentorship from experienced providers as they enter practice, she says, but they can hit the ground running. 

Many U-M medical residents – those doing post-medical-school training at Michigan Medicine’s hospitals and clinics — can also opt to get buprenorphine prescribing education at U-M. 

And soon, a new on-call addiction consult service will be available to any Michigan Medicine provider treating patients in the emergency room and inpatient wards who turn out to have an opioid use disorder and/or another substance issue including with alcohol. This includes those hospitalized after an overdose, but also those in the hospital for any medical condition.

Not only will this allow patients to get started on evidence-based care for their addiction challenge while they are in the hospital for any reason, but it will also allow the trainees involved in their care – including early-career physicians, social workers and pharmacists — to see addiction medicine being practiced in a real-life setting. The consult service will include professionals from multiple disciplines, including a peer counselor who can speak from the experience of their own addiction, and a social worker to connect patients with resources. 

“If we can engage someone during an emergency department visit or inpatient stay, and they can leave the hospital with a prescription and a map for follow-up care, there’s a much higher chance they will stay on it long-term,” says Lagisetty. 

The U-M program is patterned after others started in recent years, mostly in major hospitals on the coasts. It’s funded in part by the Michigan Opioid Partnership, through the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, which is also funding other hospitals around the state to develop their own approaches to offering more medication-based addiction care.

Lagisetty, a primary care provider herself and member of the faculty in the U-M Division of General Medicine, says institutional support like the kind Michigan Medicine is providing for student and hospital programs is critical to increasing buprenorphine availability. 

Including buprenorphine prescribing in the licensing and credentialing process for new physicians and other providers, rather than making them pursue it on their own, could be another step. 

“We need to think about why we have historically not done this, including the history of criminalizing people for having substance use disorders rather than treating them medically, especially people of color,” she says. Her own research has shown inequity in the distribution of buprenorphine prescribers.  

Lagisetty has also studied the barriers faced by people who take prescription opioids on a long-term basis, for instance for chronic pain. She’s documented the difficulty they may face in finding primary care because of the stigma against taking on an opioid-using patient. That itself can get in the way of potential care to reduce their opioid use through multiple means.  

To learn more about the wide range of opioid-related work going on at U-M, visit the Opioid Solutions website

Many of the faculty mentioned in this story are members of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and the U-M Injury Prevention Center, both of which have opioid-related research initiatives as key areas of focus.

Original press release on the Health Lab website.

The Future of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment: COVID-19 and Beyond

January 27, 2021
This week, Dr. Lewei Allison Lin presented to the University of Michigan Addiction Treatment Services (UMATS) on a topic that has been at the forefront of healthcare in age of COVID-19: Telemedicine. While Dr. Lin has been giving this presentation on telemedicine for Opioid Use Disorder for several years, it is ever-evolving with new research findings and new topics of discussion. Now more than ever, telemedicine is standing in the spotlight in wake of a global pandemic but there still gaps in providing these services. So, Dr. Lin poses the questions: how can this infrastructure be sustained in the future and what are our current challenges in delivering this care?

“Studies have specifically highlighted that telemedicine, or the mechanisms of why telemedicine can increase care, include reducing stigma and improving accessibility”

Dr. Lin addresses some of the challenges involved in telemedicine for Opioid Use Disorder treatment, including increasing access to treatment and supporting providers to increase their delivery of buprenorphine treatment. Although there will be many more changes to the way we deliver OUD treatment and telemedicine in the future, Dr. Lin’s presentation covers the burning questions and hot topics many share today.

Check out the full presentation!

Depression Care Suboptimal for Patients With Comorbid Substance Use Disorders, Study Finds

October 30, 2020

Dr. Lewei Allison Lin, along with Drs. Lara Coughlin and Paul Pfeiffer, recently published their article, “Quality of Outpatient Depression Treatment in Patients With Comorbid Substance Use Disorder” in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The research shows that patients with co-occurring depression and substance use disorders may be less likely to receive optimal depression treatment than those with depression alone. For more about the article, visit the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry blog. 

Rewrite the Script: Substance Use and Opioid Use Disorder

October 12, 2020

The hot topic on last week’s episode of The Wrap, Michigan Medicine’s podcast, was substance use during COVID-19. The Wrap interviewed Dr. Paul Hilliard, Medical Director for Institutional Opioid and Pain Management Strategy. Dr. Hilliard is a member of the Rewrite the Script team, a project working to help patients and community members manage opioid use disorder. The episode digs into the changes the state has witnessed in opioid overdoses and addiction care since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), there has been a significant increase in opioid overdoses; between April and June of 2020, opioid overdoses have increased by about 30% in the state.

“COVID has widened the gap in what resources we had for patients with a substance use disorder”

With the pandemic calling attention to the lack of resources for those living with addiction, Rewrite the Script has been working diligently to expand awareness and access to treatment. The team has engaged with Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Practice Transformation Incentives in their primary care clinics. Of the primary care clinics Rewrite the Script works with, about 87% have at least one provider who has their DATA 2000 Waiver and can now prescribe Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD). “[The providers] have received training because many of these providers have no specific background in Addiction Management,” Hilliard noted, “but we have been able to connect them with resources such as Michigan Opioid Collaborative.”

“Michigan Opioid Collaborative provides at-elbow support for these providers whenever they have a clinical question or they’re not familiar with how to treat these patients.”

Dr. Paul Hilliard

To hear more about Rewrite the Script’s efforts in Michigan to support addiction treatment and services, check out The Wrap podcast.

Dr. Lewei Allison Lin on Michigan Radio

October 1, 2020 

Michigan Radio interviewed MOC’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Lewei Allison Lin, in a recent article discussing the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Michigan will be receiving approximately $80 million in federal grants to fund programs with goals of harm reduction and treatment improvement. The Michigan Opioid Collaborative and the Michigan Opioid Partnership are two programs that will be receiving funding to continue our education, support, and treatment initiatives.

“As a state in particular, we have to think about how can we grow and sustain programs to make it easier for patients to get needed and effective treatments”

Dr. Lewei Allison Lin