Interview with Dr. Lakshmi Polavarapu

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Can you tell us about your experiences with addiction medicine during the pandemic?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the opioid crisis and opioid use disorders (OUDs). Individuals with OUD may be at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection.

During the pandemic, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHA) has granted states some increased flexibility to ensure the availability of services.

Sadler Health Center has taken action to address challenges to ensure the continuation of services during the pandemic, while also protecting the safety of patients and staff. We did this by offering both telephone and in-person visits for medication assisted treatment (MAT).

Tell us a little about your work with the opioid advisory task force in Carlisle?

In the fall of 2016, the Partnership of Better Health here in Carlisle and the Cumberland/Perry County Drug and Alcohol Commission launched a new program, which was called the Opioid Task Force. It comprises leaders from Penn State Health, UPMC, Sadler Health Center, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Pa. Association of Community Health Centers, along with some independent physicians and physical therapy places.

For four years, the focus has been to educate the public about local treatment resources and engage health care professionals and community partners in increasing the use of best practices for opioid abuse prevention, safe prescribing, and referral to treatment.

The task force has engaged in a robust communication campaign with various media partners in both Cumberland and Perry counties. It has increased the capacity of many organizations to respond effectively to the opioid abuse crisis and OUDs. The initiative aims to improve the likelihood that local residents struggling with addiction and OUDs have access to the needed services such as medication, therapy, and housing.

Why was it so important to you to bring MAT services to the uninsured and underinsured in your community?

In 2018, an estimated 2 million people had OUD, including prescription pain medication. This type of disorder doesn’t show any type of favoritism to one segment of the population over another—it can affect anyone.

The MAT program is very clinically effective. It helps provide a more comprehensive, individually tailored program to the patient by providing medication and behavioral therapy.

At Sadler Health Center, the MAT program is open to all, regardless of if the patient is uninsured or underinsured. Our program gives everyone the ability to receive the chance to reclaim a healthy lifestyle and increases their ability to gain and maintain employment. It has also significantly decreased OUD.

We understand you have a passion for training medical students. Why is this so important to you?

Teaching medical students is really essential for the future of the profession. It helps me sharpen my clinical skills, keep my knowledge up to date with current medical guidelines, and enriches my professional life. I really love it!

You recently volunteered to be on PAMED’s new Strike Team, which is working on issue such as vaccine hesitancy. What motivated you to get involved, and what do you hope will come out of your efforts on the Strike Team?

The goal of PAMED’s Strike Team is to update and modify content that is accessed by physician members in Pennsylvania. It will help physicians with clinical guidance on various issues like vaccine hesitancy. We have seen that the vaccine hesitant patients are the ones who are on the fence. They actually outnumber the patients who outright refuse to take the vaccine. Therefore, counseling this group might be a very effective way to decrease vaccine hesitancy numbers.

Vaccine hesitancy is complex. As a trusted source of information, PAMED can be really helpful for family physicians to play a key role in driving vaccine acceptance.

Serving on PAMED’s Strike Team is also an opportunity for me to learn from colleagues and partners regarding their best practices. 

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