The WSU Spokane Program of Excellence in Addictions Research (PEAR) is a wide-ranging effort aimed at improving the understanding, treatment, and prevention of addictions.

Founded in 2006 by John Roll, senior vice chancellor at WSU Health Sciences, PEAR is today one of the primary addictions science programs at WSU, says director and assistant professor in the College of Nursing Celestina Barbosa-Leiker.

PEAR is currently in collaboration with the Spokane Regional Health District methadone clinic, led by medical director Matt Layton.

Celestina Barbosa-Leiker
Celestina Barbosa-Leiker

Barbosa-Leiker is working with Layton to identify individuals for a state-wide study comparing gender differences in opioid use and the ways in which withdrawal is assessed for each.

“When you’re seeking treatment for opioid addiction, you have to be at a certain level of withdrawal before they can safely induct you onto methadone,” she says. Unfortunately, current methods of assessing withdrawal appear to show different results for men and women. “In my study, the assessment itself doesn’t seem to be working as well for women as it does for men,” says Barbosa-Leiker.

Her goal is to better define why this is so and to pinpoint barriers that interfere with successful treatment in women.

Marian Wilson, assistant professor in the college of nursing, studies opioid dependence in people with chronic pain. She is also recruiting patients from the methadone clinic for a study exploring non-pharmacologic methods of managing pain such as cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation/meditation, and physical exercise.

Using an online pain self-management program, patients can choose and integrate alternative therapies while tracking their progress in decreasing both pain and the associated need for opioid use. Wilson says the program has shown positive results in prior studies.

“Fifty percent of our methadone clients have legitimate medical problems like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis that got them started on pain pills in the first place,” says Layton.

Wilson agrees and says, “serious gaps remain in understanding how the transition from ‘pain patient’ to ‘addict’ occurs.” As a result, people with chronic pain are often stigmatized and have difficulty in receiving appropriate care, she says.


Read more in “The Epidemic.”