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Here’s how Alverno Laboratories works to battle the opioid crisis with state-of-the-art technology

Alverno Laboratories is taking the opioid crisis head on with the implementation of groundbreaking, Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometer (LCMS) drug testing technology. The state-of-the-art technology, which is being implemented at Hammond, Indiana-based Alverno’s network of hospitals in Illinois and Indiana by early 2020, will be available locally to allow medical personnel throughout Indiana and Illinois to determine whether a patient is taking their medications as prescribed, and assist the physician to provide better patient care and management of medications.

“Currently samples are being sent out to a reference lab in Utah and other laboratories across the country, and when we go live, we will be testing the samples in in our Hammond based laboratory with an expected turnaround time of no more than 24-48 hours,” said Samantha Withered, a toxicologist at Alverno who was hired in March to lead the project. “This allows us to test the samples from our community and ultimately have a local impact.”

Withered, a St. John, IN resident, said LCMS is considered top-of-the-line technology in drug testing in biological fluids that will allow Alverno to look at multiple analytes in a small amount of time.

Alverno Laboratories, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is one of the largest integrated laboratory networks in the United States. It owns and operates nearly 40 hospital laboratories in Illinois and Indiana, and features a central laboratory performing both clinical and anatomic pathology. Alverno’s innovative, state-of-the-art laboratory offers cost effective testing and personalized customer service, with advanced technology and testing in Precision Medicine/Next-Gen Sequencing, toxicology and other speciality testing. Alverno’s on-site pathologists are part of the pathology practice of Pathology Consultants, Inc.

“At Alverno Laboratories, our focus has been on how we can support caregivers, physicians and patients, in essence our communities,” Alverno CEO Sam Terese said. “Alverno, over the last several months, has been expanding its testing capabilities in order to meet the needs of our community here in in Northwest Indiana and in the Chicagoland area as well.”

The lab’s Pain Management Panel will be testing for 78 analytes (57 commonly prescribed medications and the metabolites) that have the tendency to be abused or cause adverse effects when combined. The panel includes medications from the following drug classes: Opiates, Opioids, Narcotic Analgesics, Benzodiazepines, Amphetamines, Stimulants, Antidepressants, Barbiturates, Drugs of Abuse/Illicit Substances, Sleep Aids, and Nerve Pain medications.

“This in-house testing will provide a snapshot of what medications and/or substances are in the patient’s system at the time the urine sample is collected” Withered explained. “The results are then interpreted to determine whether they are consistent with the medication list that was provided. The physician then can then use these results to adjust medications to better assist the patient or discontinue prescribing medications if they feel the patient is misusing the prescription themselves or providing them to another individual. We are currently conducting validation studies, as this is a laboratory developed test, and expect to go live in early 2020. The plan is to expand this testing to oral fluid (saliva) and blood testing.”

battle the opioid crisis

Terese has been with the company since 2005, first as Vice President, then as Chief Operating Officer, and, since Sept. 8, 2011, as its President and CEO. In the last decade under Terese’s leadership, Alverno’s revenue has averaged 20 percent yearly growth, and this year alone the company has made numerous major announcements, including:

  • Becoming the first U.S.-based network to launch groundbreaking digital pathology services from Royal Philips that will assess and diagnose all clinical histology cases digitally, instead of using a microscope.
  • The implementation of Precision Medicine into its network. Precision medicine seeks to predict which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people. Terese said the company purchased genome sequencers that can reveal genetic mutations that can offer clues about a patient’s diagnosis or how they will respond to treatment.
  • Adding two key Chicago hospitals, along with several suburban AMITA Health hospitals, to its network. Alverno added Mount Sinai Hospital, 1500 S. Fairfield Ave., and Holy Cross Hospital, 2701 W. 68th St., plus eight suburban AMITA hospitals. It increases the number of hospitals in Alverno’s network to 36, doubling the 18 Alverno partnered with in 2005.
  • The additional hospitals will require Alverno to add 20 associates to the central lab and “will increase the total number of associates from 1,700 to around 2,100”, Terese said. Terese added that Alverno’s next goal is to expand to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

Statistics involving opioid abuse are alarming. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse:

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states.

Terese said he’s excited that Alverno is on the front line of trying to come up with creative solutions to the crisis.

“We are now able to offer diagnosis and help our physicians who are the front line of treating and increasing the number of patients impacted by opioid addiction,” Terese said.