Agencies can get grants for trying new opioid methods

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Up to $455,000 in grants are available for Michigan-based organizations willing to try new but proven approaches to tackling a national opioid crisis.

Coalitions must have one organization from the mental health field and one from public health, and must have an organization that works with the “population of interest,” which is opioid users.

The grants are sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, its foundation and three other partners. Up to seven community organizations can apply for the grants.

“Instead of having one agency do one intervention, we thought we should work with established coalitions that already have a larger plan and want to try an evidence-based new intervention to see how it works,” said Audrey Harvey, director and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

The grants also are funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Superior Health Foundation.

Harvey said the grants fit with the mission of all five organizations funding them, which is provide support for those organizations dealing with issues of “cost, quality and access” in health care. Opioids, which played a role in some 52,000 fatal drug overdoses in America in 2015, are thought to be a major public health crisis.

Harvey said the grants would be directed at programs featuring approaches that have been proven to work and haven’t been attempted by that particular coalition.

“We’re looking for someone to bring something truly new to an overall plan that they have in place,” Harvey said.

Blue Cross isn’t asking others only to try new ideas. It has updated its own policies in response to the opioid crisis. Among them: patients being prescribed short-acting opioids for the first time are capped at a 15-day supply. And its opioid toolkit not only links doctors with resources on opioid best practices, it gives a cheat sheet that includes “pharmalogic alternatives” to potentially addictive opioids.

In April, the Blue Cross foundation granted $75,000 to a University of Michigan doctor-pharmacist collaborative that will serve about 50 patients.

Dr. Pooja Lagisetty, lead investigator for the study, said the goal is to learn whether a specialized pharmacist at a UM primary care clinic, the East Ann Arbor Health Clinic, can help primary care doctors and their patients better manage chronic pain among patients who take “risky” levels of opioids.

Patients who were flagged would have the option to participate.

“We don’t want pharmacists to be gatekeepers for patients’ medications; that’s not the point,” Lagisetty said. “We want to help people manage pain in a way that promotes safer prescribing and better pain management.”

The pharmacist, a specialist in pain management, would be available to offer guidance to doctors “who may just need a second eye” to see alternatives to prescribing opioids in large numbers. Unlike a pharmacist treating a diabetes patient, who is free to adjust insulin levels if they deem it appropriate, in Michigan pharmacists can’t alter written prescriptions for controlled substances.

“One of the goals of this pilot is to show that the pharmacist is this great check-and-balance system for the physician, that they are doing a better job at safely managing their medication so that we can push for these policy changes that would allow them to more seamlessly make some of the changes on their own, without having to go to the physician to enter everything,” Lagisetty said.

Patient recruiting is expected to start in two to three months. Once patients are admitted to the study, they’ll be a part of it for four to six months.

How to apply

Coalitions that meet the criteria and want to apply can start by sending letters of interest to Letters are due by Wednesday.