ROANOKE — The University of Virginia has launched a helpline that is intended to provide answers to anyone with opioid-related questions.
“It’s an opioid helpline where anyone who is struggling with opioid use, if they have an addiction problem, or about to have an addiction problem, or they are prescribed opioids for pain and they want to know more about the medication and managing their pain can call,” said UVa psychiatrist Dr. Nassima Ait-Daoud who’s leading the project.
Really, it’s a free resource for anyone with pain or opioid questions, whether the opioid is prescribed legally or obtained illicitly. Ait-Daoud said anyone in Virginia can call the toll-free helpline, (877) OPIOIDS, during business hours, but researchers are rolling it out first in rural Wise County, where opioid use rates are high and resources are scarce, and where UVa has a campus.
“We’re cognizant of doing one area at a time and doing it well, instead of going blast off everywhere. We don’t have the capacity,” she said. Nor do they have a big marketing budget.
Ait-Daoud said she’s been talking with physicians and groups and is hoping that word-of-mouth and social media can carry the message further.
The helpline was six months in the making, as data from a variety of sources was gathered and staff with the Center for Leading Edge Addiction Research were trained on how to provide guidance.
“We wanted Virginia to be the first with an opioid hotline, and we really wanted to reach rural areas because that’s where they have less resources,” Ait-Daoud said. “It’s really hard for individuals to figure out where to start.”
She said some people might just need to make one call.
“Someone might say, ‘I just took my son to the dentist, and he was prescribed Vicodin, and I’m really concerned because of everything I’ve heard about the medication.’ We’ll tell them about the medication, how to recognize if someone is using, how to prevent overdoses, where to store medication, everything,” she said.
Others might have addictions and need multiple, longer phone calls to connect with programs and services and learn what they can do to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
“We were hoping to get people taking opioids ask, ‘I want to rely less on my opioid, can you tell me what are some of the options,’” she said.
The helpline is also set up to teach people relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
Ait-Daoud said some of the callers have not been interested in learning other ways to treat pain; instead, they want to know where they can get more pain pills.
“They say, ‘I have been on opioid medication for 10 years. I know not to get addicted. I know not to overdose. I know how to use it. My struggle is, it’s not enough,’” she said.
She said they try to educate callers about how they develop a tolerance, and how over time the opioids might be causing more pain rather than helping.
At the other end, she said, people are worried that they’ll become addicted from taking opioids prescribed after dental work or surgery.
“We educate them on how to avoid having a problem. Also, we reassure them that just because you take a pill three days, it won’t cause you to have an addiction,” she said.
To understand how well the helpline actually helps, callers will be asked to give feedback.
Ait-Daoud said they will use that information to improve the helpline.