Posted by Kaitlyn McConnell on Dec. 3, 2018 A caregiver holds hands with a patient.

Patients in rural areas of the Ozarks utilizing opioids for pain relief will soon have more help to avoid becoming addicted to their medications. The support is thanks to a $790,395 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to add behavioral health to patients' care plans.

The grant will outfit rural CoxHealth clinics with telemedicine equipment so patients may be seen virtually for behavioral health needs. Through the program, patients will have access to mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling, as well as chronic disease management services. For long-term mental health or addiction-based needs, patients will be referred to specialty care and community services.

To be eligible for the program, patients must have a pain-related diagnosis, two to four co-occurring chronic conditions and an active opioid prescription. Qualifying pain-related conditions include headache, fibromyalgia, chronic plain and lower back pain. Medical conditions include diabetes, COPD, chronic heart failure and hypertension.

“While opioids can help relieve pain, abuse and addiction to them is a rising concern across the country and in our region,” says Lisa Alexander, president of the CoxHealth Foundation, who secured the grant funding. “We believe that this initiative is another way to link patients to the best methods of addressing both their physical and mental pain so they can return to a healthy life, stopping potential abuse before it starts.”  

Currently, it’s estimated that more than 2,500 patients will be served by this program in 11 CoxHealth clinics in eight communities: Aurora, Branson, Branson West, Cassville, Crane, Monett, Mount Vernon and Shell Knob.  

The program is set to begin in the fall of 2018. It is an expansion of CoxHealth’s Primary Care Behavioral Health (PCBH), which began in 2012.