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Local pain clinic works to combat opioid crisis among veterans

SALISBURY — In an effort to help tackle the opioid crisis, one local pain management clinic is using strategies to help chronic opioid users, particularly veterans, alleviate their pain in other ways.

Founded in 2006 by Dr. Robert Wilson, II, the Piedmont Interventional Pain Care clinic works to remove, or at least reduce, patients’ needs for opioids by using injections, implants, nerve blocking and radiofrequency therapy. Some common conditions the clinic treats includes pains in the back, neck, muscles and nerves as well as pain from cancer.

About seven or eight years ago, Wilson said, he began to notice a pattern among veterans he treated. Veterans often have chronic pain and, Wilson said, a lot of them had prescriptions for pain medication. This pattern and increased volume in veteran patients prompted Wilson to coordinate with the local VA to accept more of them.

“I saw a big need for what I do. I knew I could do better,” Wilson said, referring to how often other physicians prescribe opioids for veterans.

But Wilson does add that “taking care of those veterans is no different than how I take care of my other patients. I just saw a bigger need there.”

The Opioid Crisis Response Act was passed in 2018 and works to increase access to addiction treatment and interventions to mitigate the opioid epidemic —from law enforcement efforts against illicit drugs to combating the overprescription of opioids. From 1999 to 2016, more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, North Carolina received a $31 million grant through the 21st Century Cures Act to address the opioid crisis.

Wilson does acknowledge, however, that there is a need for some patients, like cancer patients, to continue taking opioids. Additionally, not every patient is capable of taking injections, having nerves blocked or having devices implanted. But the clinic works to keep the dosage at a minimum only after trying other options first.

And for patients who are prescribed opioids, Wilson said a stricter supervision process has been implemented. Urine screenings are periodically conducted for patients who take pain meds to ensure no illicit drugs are being used, as well as pill counts to ensure patients are compliant with their prescription.

Wilson said that, while the death rate for opioid use has decreased in the last year, statistics still don’t differentiate enough between opioids and illicit drugs like meth and heroin, which are just as concerning, especially if they’re being taken by patients instead of opioids.

He credits the clinic with being “at the forefront” of mitigating the opioid crisis. For example, long-action opioid use is no longer used as it was once practiced years ago.

Joseph Vaughn, director of the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center, said Wilson was one of the validated medical providers years ago and remains one under the 2018 VA Mission Act, which includes physicians and health care providers who have opioid prescribing privileges. Vaughn added that Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are also among the list of validated providers.

It “makes more sense” for the VA to refer patients to community providers that offer interventional pain techniques and strategies, Vaughn said.

Referring patients has helped with the access and waiting times for veterans when the VA doesn’t offer the services or access they need, he said, which allows for quicker treatment and the benefit of being closer to their homes.

Piedmont Interventional Pain Clinic sees an average of 900-925 patients per month and about 60-75 patients per day, according to Wilson. That number has increased from the 6,000 patients he saw the first year the clinic was operating.

Wilson serves on the Opioid Task Forces for The Department of Health and Human Services, the Industrial Commission, the North Carolina Medical Board and the North Carolina Medical Society. He is also president of the Pain Society of the Carolinas.

The Piedmont Interventional Pain Clinic is located at 320 Jake Alexander Blvd West, #102, in Salisbury.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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