More patients with substance abuse issues are receiving potentially life-saving treatment for addictions, thanks to an innovative peer-to-peer counseling program. An embedded, on-site outreach counselor at Wilmington Hospital is engaging patients with drug and alcohol problems at times when studies show intervention efforts most often find success.
Christiana Care launched the program Sept. 1, 2008, in partnership with Brandywine Counseling Inc. Since then the program has produced dramatic results that could ultimately reduce serious illnesses associated with addiction, such as pancreatitis, heart disease, kidney failure, cirrhosis and pneumonia.
As of June 10, 2010, 35 percent of the 313 individuals who received peer-to-peer counseling have participated in a licensed inpatient or outpatient treatment program, said Terry Horton, M.D., an internist on the faculty of the Department of Medicine.
“These numbers are exceedingly robust,” Dr. Horton said. “Before, the only option available to engage patients in community-based drug treatment was to hand them a phone number, and a few, if any, would follow through.”
The program’s impressive success rate attracted the attention of Delaware Physicians Care, an Aetna Medicaid plan. In tracking 18 patients who received peer-to-peer counseling, the group found that individuals were taking better care of their health and relying less on emergency care. Hospital admissions declined by a third, and there were 38 percent fewer visits to the Emergency Department. Meanwhile, visits to primary-care providers increased 88 percent.
Patients who receive treatment for their addictions and routine care from their primary-care physicians are less likely to develop more serious diseases.
“Care for substance abusers can be exceedingly expensive,” Dr. Horton said. “By getting them treatment, we can reduce their suffering and benefit society, as well.”
Brandywine Counseling’s Bobbie Dillard works directly and intensely with patients at Wilmington Hospital who have been identified as being addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“Bobbie comes to the bedside or the clinic, or the Emergency Department, and talks with the patients,” Dr. Horton said. “It’s a low-tech method that is having a positive impact on health care costs.”
Finding ways to channel people into treatment for their addictions could have a sweeping effect on the health care system. Currently, 7 percent of the adults in Delaware are considered problem drinkers, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health.
“When you include drug abuse, the number is even higher,” Dr. Horton said.
Bolstered by the success of the program at Wilmington Hospital, Christiana Care hopes to expand the initiative to Christiana Hospital.
“We’re working with the state to try to secure federal funding,” Dr. Horton said. “We think we have come up with an effective method that saves both lives and money.”