HHS will award $195 million to community health centers for addiction treatment
HHS on Monday said it will award $195 million to community health centers to increase access to mental health and substance abuse services, including opioid addiction treatment.
The funding supports the Trump administration's larger effort to combat the opioid epidemic by integrating substance abuse treatment into primary care. The grants will be awarded in September.
Selected health centers will use the grants to hire additional staff dedicated to mental health and substance abuse treatment services. The providers will also increase access to health information technology and training support. HHS will provide rural community health centers with an additional $3 million to expand opioid addiction treatment.
The grants, called the Access Increases in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will be administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Health centers can request up to $75,000 in funding.
The nearly 1,400 community health centers across the U.S. provide primary-care services to largely Medicaid or Medicare beneficiaries and the uninsured. Opioid addiction is prevalent among these populations, especially in rural areas. More than 6 of every 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries and 8.7 of every 1,000 Medicaid beneficiaries suffer from an opioid disorder, according to a January report from the CMS.
"Integration is key to solving these challenges," said HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price. "This funding will help our nation's health centers provide that integration for mental health services and opioid addiction treatment."
The union of opioid addiction into primary care is critical to fight the epidemic, said Anne Woodbury, executive director of the Advocates for Opioid Recovery, a bipartisan organization. Primary-care providers must be armed with the training and tools to identify patients who may be suffering from opioid addiction and the means to treat them with evidence-based approaches. "We can't just depend on specialists to treat this epidemic. We need primary care," she said.
The health centers should also plan to increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with their additional funds, Woodbury said. "It is important that the money is being spent on treatments that work for opioid addiction."
Price questioned the effectiveness of MAT last month, saying "If we're just substituting one opioid for another, we're not moving the dial much." Those comments sparked criticism from patient advocates and addiction experts, and they're also concerned about other Trump administration moves to combat the epidemic.
The administration organized an opioid panel that didn't include a representative from the Food and Drug Administration. Experts say the FDA is a critical voice in the fight against opioid addiction.
Lawmakers also have expressed concern that the Senate's Affordable Care Act repeal bill will harm those suffering from opioid addiction because of the proposed cuts to Medicaid.
"There is a lot of pressure on Congress to figure out that any changes don't negatively affect access, particularly this opioid addiction crisis we are trying to fight," Woodbury said.
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