Steve Lawyer

Steve Lawyer

POCATELLO — Two Idaho State University psychologists have received a sizable training grant to bolster a wide range of local efforts to treat and prevent opioid use disorder.

Steven Lawyer, a professor of clinical psychology and director of clinical training at ISU, and Samuel Peer, assistant professor of psychology, were recently awarded $1.1 million, covering three years, through the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

They intend to start biannual workshops where locals involved in all aspects of addressing opioid use will hear national experts present on proven strategies to help those who are struggling with addiction.

Their program will also seek to train more local medical professionals on treating opioid use disorder. Lawyer said the professionals who undergo that training will then help teach his students. ISU has the state’s only American Psychological Association-accredited doctoral programs in psychology. The grant also focuses more broadly on interdisciplinary behavioral health care.

“One of the limitations of care in Southeast Idaho is not enough people are providing medical care for opioid use disorder,” Lawyer said. “Rural areas like Southeast Idaho are terribly underserved.”

The ISU program will partner with Health West Behavioral Health Center, located in Pocatello; Pearl Health Clinic, located in Idaho Falls; State Hospital South, located in Blackfoot, and Mental Wellness Centers, located in Pocatello. Seven students per year from Lawyer’s program will choose among those partners to participate in practicums, completing two, six-month rotations. Practicums are graduate-level courses providing students supervised, practical applications of their studies.

Opioids are a broad class of highly addictive painkillers. Abuse of opioids, fueled by over-prescription of the drugs for pain treatment, has led to widespread deaths throughout the U.S. Many Americans have been filing class-action lawsuits against doctors, drug manufacturers and wholesalers and pharmacists.

While working in those clinics, Lawyer said at least a quarter of his students’ time will be devoted to treatment and care for opioid use disorder. He plans to start the first practicum in January, with subsequent practicums beginning in August.

Another focus of the grant will be on improving access to opioid treatment for patients in rural areas by investing in telemedicine infrastructure used by three of those clinics — State Hospital South offers treatment only on an in-patient basis.

Lawyer is in the process of creating a “community change team.” It will comprise about 15 members representing several local stakeholders, who will meet regularly to identify barriers to to care for opioid abuse disorder, as well as solutions. The group’s discussions will help guide planning of the workshops.

He anticipates about 60 people will attend the workshops, including his students and clinicians, case managers, clinic operators and state-level policy representatives involved in fighting the opioid epidemic. The plans to offer the first workshop on campus in March of 2020.

“Opioid addiction has become a growing problem over the last decade,” Lawyer said. “The problem has grown faster than our ability to provide adequate solutions.”