New prevention tool for doctors could help tackle opioid epidemic

By Alison Wickline - Reporter

LEXINGTON, Va. - The opioid epidemic is killing thousands of Americans every year and costing the country billions of dollars. Now, a Lexington woman is leading a new effort to tackle the epidemic.

A new tool in the fight may be popping up on computer screens in the near future. WellScreen allows health providers to screen and even intervene with people at risk for addiction.

"We want to identify those people who are misusing substances but are not quite dependent or addicted to those substances yet," said Keri-Lyn Coleman, president and CEO of WellScreen.

WellScreen is all about prevention -- stopping an addiction before it starts. Doctors would ask patients a series of questions. The patients would then be placed in a category -- low, moderate or high risk of substance misuse. Then doctors would decide what treatment works best.

"Imagine walking in every year: You get your weight. You get your blood pressure. You get a substance use screen. It becomes routine," said Coleman.

Coleman is a former White House drug policy advisor. She believes WellScreen will not only help prevent overdoses, but also save money. A recent report shows that the opioid epidemic costs the U.S. economy nearly $80 billion a year, totaling more than $1 trillion since 2001.

"We know that this is effective, we know that it saves money and we know that it can save lives," said Coleman.

WellScreen is still in its early stages, but Coleman hopes the program eventually becomes universal. 

"It's about reducing suffering and trying to give people the resources before they are ravaged in addiction and the consequences of their use," said Coleman.

As of now, WellScreen is being used by some doctors in Florida.

Both Johns Hopkins University Medical Center and former President Bill Clinton have expressed support for this style of treatment.

To learn more about WellScreen, click here.

Copyright 2018 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.