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Resident physicians will receive training to better serve patients with opioid use disorder

Physicians training in the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford’s Family Medicine Residency Program will now receive experience in treating patients with substance use disorder thanks to a grant to implement a medication-assisted recovery (MAR) program at UI Health Mile Square Health Center-L.P. Johnson Rockford, 1221 E. State St.

Taking the lead on the MAR program implementation are faculty members of the UICOMR Department of Family and Community Medicine, including clinical assistant professors Annette Hays, PharmD, and Karen Liao, MD, and assistant professor Rhonda Verzal, MD, FAAFP.

“Opioid use disorder and opioid-related fatalities remain a critical area of concern within our community and nationwide,” says Dr. Hays, who is a Mile Square Health Center clinical pharmacist. “Winnebago County has one of the highest opioid overdose fatality rates in the state and there just aren’t enough providers and programs to help patients who want to recover from opioid addiction. With medication-assisted treatment, we can help our patients get on their way to recovery while they wait to access specialized care.”

By instituting a MAR training program, all physicians at Mile Square Health Center will receive training on how medications like buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone can help those with opioid use disorder to stay off opioids and get on a path to recovery.

A family medicine residency training program has an obligation to provide instruction regarding MAR among our residents and faculty,” says Dr. Verzal, who is associate program director for the UICOMR Family Medicine Residency Program and a family medicine physician at Mile Square Health Center. “Just like we provide treatment and monitoring for patients with diabetes or other chronic conditions, we need to be able to help our patients who suffer from substance use disorders.”

A Federally Qualified Health Center where UICOMR family medicine residents see patients under the supervision of UICOMR faculty physicians, the Mile Square Health Center in Rockford sees diverse patients of all ages and stages of life, including those who are uninsured or on Medicaid or Medicare.

“As family medicine physicians, we also provide obstetric care for our patients and prepare residents to provide pregnancy services through our Structured Training for Rural Enhancement of Community Health in Obstetrics Program,” says Dr. Liao, who is associate director for academic programs for the UICOMR Family Medicine Residency Program and a family medicine physician at Mile Square Health Center. “If one of our pregnant patients suffers from opioid use disorder, it’s important to their health and the health of their baby to get them treatment as soon as possible. Through medication-assisted recovery, we can better serve these patients.”

The $10,000 grant to start the MAR program is one of 10 awarded by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development with funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery with assistance from Illinois Rural Health Association.

The MAR program is expected to start accepting patients by April 2022. For more information or an appointment at UI Health Mile Square Health Center, call 815-972-1000. Walk-in patients are also welcome.