Hawaii gets $8.4M grant to train doctors on signs of addiction - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii gets $8.4M grant to train doctors on signs of addiction

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaii has received an $8.4 million federal grant aimed at training doctors to better help patients suffering from alcohol or substance abuse.

The money will be used to launch a new program to train doctors in early detection, counseling, and in more advanced cases, referring patients to substance abuse treatment facilities. 

"It's a drop in the bucket but it's doing something different, that we've never done before," said Alan Johnson, president and CEO of Hina Mauka, a rehab center.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii ranks among the highest in the nation for excessive drinking rates. Also, there's been a steady increase in the number of pregnant women in Hawaii who drink.

Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the state Department of Health, said the new training program will show doctors how to address those issues and counsel patients about the dangers of drinking and using drugs during pregnancy.

"Before they have children, so that we don't have fetal alcohol syndrome, and the terrible consequences," she said.

Edward Mersereau, chief of the State’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said the awareness program will also help bridge the gap between the medical community and the rehab community “so that primary care docs know a little bit more about addiction and that addiction providers know a little bit more about primary care."

Doctors who treat people for pain or health problems will be trained to look for the signs of alcohol or drug abuse.

For severe cases, they'll know how to refer a patient to services.

Mesereau compares it to a doctor treating a person with a heart issues, suggesting healthy changes and then referring the patient to a cardiologist.

Alan Johnson, president of Hina Mauka, an addiction treatment center, said intervening early could keep patients from spiraling further into addiction. 

"Twenty-five percent of the people who have illnesses that go see doctors are abusing their medication or are abusing alcohol or drugs," he said.

The money will be distributed over five years, so the DOH will be working on the program in five phases. The first doctors to be trained will be those working in federally-funded clinics, and those treating Medicaid patients.

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