The University of Nebraska Medical Center will soon begin the state's first addiction medicine fellowship program, a partnership of the medical center, the state and the attorney general's office.
The fellowship and training program will help educate doctors and health care professionals on preventing, evaluating and treating addiction in the state, said Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Addiction is one of the largest, most costly, preventable health issues in this country, he said. A large majority of people will be exposed to alcohol or substance abuse by the time they are 21. And nearly 25% of Nebraskans' deaths every year are related to alcohol or substance abuse.
The addiction fellowship will address not only drug abuse but nicotine and alcohol abuse, including binge drinking, Ricketts said.
Nebraska has the lowest drug overdose death rate in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control, he said, due in part to efforts by the Legislature, the state and health professionals.
Nebraska has a prescription drug-monitoring program enacted by the Legislature.
The state also has distributed naloxone throughout its communities. Naloxone is used to block or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, including extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing or loss of consciousness.
The state is flagging and following up on physicians who prescribe large amounts of opioids. And it has a drug take-back program that has recovered 1,463 pounds of medications just with state funding, and more with other funding, said Sheri Dawson, state director of behavioral health.
At a news conference Monday to talk about the fellowship, UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold told the story of how first responders in western Nebraska who had recently been trained on the administration of naloxone responded to a call three weeks later in which a 5-year-old girl had gotten into a grandparent's bottle of opioids and was near death. Those responders were able to save her life with the drug.
Addiction medicine fellows have subspecialties, with training in substance use and other addictive disorders. They work in clinics and public health settings, and do education and research.
Dr. Ken Zoucha, UNMC assistant professor of psychiatry and addiction division director, will lead the fellowship program. Most recently, he oversaw the juvenile chemical dependency unit at the Hastings Regional Center.
The first year of the fellowship program will be spent building the infrastructure in partnership with academic institutions, such as UNMC and Creighton University. The first fellow will start in September and graduate next August.
Initial funding is provided through a grant from the HHS division of behavioral health. Funding to keep the program going beyond the start-up phase is being sought.