Allegheny Health Network Receives $5 Million Federal Grant to Evaluate Enhanced Screening, Intervention in Primary Care Settings for Patients with Substance Use Disorders

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Awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to only a few health systems nationally, the funding will support implementation of a primary care program aimed at identifying, reducing and preventing problematic use, abuse and dependence on alcohol or illicit drugs.

As caregivers on the frontlines of this epidemic, we believe there is significant opportunity within primary care to identify more patients with active substance use disorders – or those who are at risk – so that we can intervene early on...

Allegheny Health Network (AHN), a Highmark Health company, announced today a new effort to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of early screening and treatment intervention for patients in the primary care setting who are at risk or have substance use disorders.

AHN’s initiative is supported by a $5 million, five-year grant – awarded to only a few health systems nationally – from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Key partners in the effort include Highmark Health, Gateway Health, Pittsburgh Mercy Behavioral Health, Gateway Rehab and the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU).

According to SAMHSA, more than 20 million people have substance use disorders, yet most people with addiction do not receive treatment. Nearly 90,000 people suffer alcohol-related deaths annually, while more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the total economic burden in the U.S. related to the opioid epidemic alone is $78.5 billion per year.

The grant funding will support the implementation of ‘Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment’ (SBIRT) activities at AHN’s Greentree Medical Associates and at the Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion. SBIRT is an evidence-based protocol used to identify, reduce, and prevent problematic use, abuse and dependence on alcohol or illicit drugs.

At both sites, all patients age 18 and older will be assessed for their alcohol and substance use risk using a validated screening tool. If screened positive, and the patient consents to further conversation with an onsite care coordinator, the patient may be connected with specialty care and/or appropriate substance use disorder treatment via warm handoff to those services.

“As caregivers on the frontlines of this epidemic, we believe there is significant opportunity within primary care to identify more patients with active substance use disorders – or those who are at risk – so that we can intervene early on and connect them with the appropriate resources that will help them get better. We are extremely grateful to be recognized and selected by SAMHSA to receive this grant, which will enable us to test and demonstrate the effectiveness and benefits of SBIRT within the primary care landscape,” said Bill Johnjulio, MD, Chair, AHN Primary Care Institute.

For AHN patients evaluated in primary care settings who require additional community resources to help them address other social determinants of health, care coordinators will help them obtain those services on an ongoing basis.

It is estimated that approximately 25,000 patients will be served through this AHN primary care initiative.

SBIRT activities will be supported by an integrated, patient-centered health care delivery model which has been implemented across AHN’s primary care footprint and is managed by a multidisciplinary team that includes physicians, registered nurses, behavioral health consultants, dietitians, pharmacists and health coaches.

As primary evaluator of the initiative, PERU will oversee data collection and analysis, and will assist with SBIRT implementation at the evaluation sites utilizing a proven implementation framework.

According to Dr. Johnjulio, by demonstrating the efficacy of SBIRT, AHN and Highmark Health will be in a position to advance new payment models and incentives for caregivers that will make it easier for patients to access behavioral health and/or substance use services, beginning with their primary care provider.

“If we can demonstrate positive results relative to patient outcomes and the cost-effectiveness of more aggressive intervention in the PCP setting, the potential impact and benefit to patients and to our communities on a much broader level is substantial,” he said.

AHN has introduced a number of innovative programs and services in recent years designed to provide patients who are combatting addiction with compassionate, high-quality care. Those programs include the Network’s Center of Excellence for Opioid Use Disorder – part of the AHN Center for Inclusion Health, its Perinatal Hope/Growing Hope programs in Pittsburgh and Erie for addicted mothers, its medical respite program, and more.

Last fall, AHN announced its partnership with Allegheny County, Highmark Health and Gateway Health to open a 45-bed unit at the Kane Community Living Center in McKeesport. The post-acute unit, which opened in November 2018, is for patients with medical conditions and co-occurring substance use disorders.

To better address opioid addiction related to chronic pain management in Western Pennsylvania, AHN and Gateway Health recently launched the Enhanced Pain Management Program which takes a novel, holistic approach to treating patients’ pain and restoring their quality of life. The first clinic opened last year at AHN’s Institute for Pain Medicine near West Penn Hospital, with additional sites planned at other AHN facilities in the near future.


About Allegheny Health Network
Allegheny Health Network (, a Highmark Health company, is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region. The Network is composed of eight hospitals, including Allegheny General Hospital, its flagship academic medical center in Pittsburgh, Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights, Canonsburg Hospital in Canonsburg, Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, Jefferson Hospital in Jefferson Hills, Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie, West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh and Westfield Memorial Hospital in Westfield, NY. The Network provides patients with access to a complete spectrum of advanced medical services, including nationally recognized programs for primary and emergency care, cardiovascular disease, cancer care, orthopaedic surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, women’s health, diabetes and more. It also is home to a comprehensive research institute; Health + Wellness Pavilions; an employed physician organization, home and community based health services and a group purchasing organization. The Network employs approximately 20,000 people, has more than 2,400 physicians on its medical staff and serves as a clinical campus for Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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Candace Herrington
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