Penn State Health to establish medication-assisted opioid treatment program

Initiative at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute funded by $1 million grant

Penn State Health is leading creation of a new system to ensure people in south central Pennsylvania with opioid use disorder receive the treatment they need. The new system’s “hub-and-spoke” model is aimed at revolutionizing the way the disease is managed by recognizing medication-assisted treatment as the gold standard of care and providing a way to fast-track people with the disorder into treatment.

The “hub” will be located at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (PPI) in Harrisburg, and will provide a wide range of services to address physical and mental health along with case management and legal services. It will serve as a resource for the “spokes,” which include primary care practices that may not be able to treat those with severe opioid use disorder.

“This new system will provide a continuum of care, connecting primary care clinics throughout south central Pennsylvania with more intensive opioid treatment programs to ensure their patients receive the care they need and don’t fall through the cracks,” said Dr. Sarah Kawasaki, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and PPI.

The initiative is made possible by one of four $1 million grants that the Wolf Administration is awarding statewide, aimed at combating the opioid epidemic across the commonwealth. Together, the four projects establish the Pennsylvania Coordinated Medication-Assisted Treatment (PacMAT) program. The initiatives are funded through the 21st Century Cures grant, a $26.5 million federal grant received by the Wolf Administration.

“Our aim is to create a framework that allows anyone from any health care setting or socioeconomic background to quickly access the treatment they need in a way that restores their dignity, helping them to become productive members of society,” Kawasaki said.

The step-wise approach to treatment is similar to how physicians treat other illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. “This is what will move the needle on lowering overdose deaths in the region,” Kawasaki said.

“It's clear that Pennsylvania needs a new and comprehensive approach to this disease,” said Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, CEO of Penn State Health, dean of Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs. “We know from research that when treatment includes both medication and therapy, patients do better. And when patients do better, families and communities do better.”