The Health Resources and Services Administration is awarding $80 million in federal grants to rural medical centers, universities and community organizations to help fight the opioid crisis.
The funding will be divided among grantees in 39 states to create treatment sites, expand access to behavioral healthcare and distribute necessary medications, the Health and Human Services Department agency announced Thursday.
While the agency has set some parameters to guide how the grants are used, the criteria is flexible enough to allow individual communities to determine spending based on their areas of greatest need, said Carole Johnson, the agency’s administrator.
“What we see are differences on the ground, that one community might have very strong [local] organizations, but not have a lot of infrastructure built up,” she said. “On the clinical side, they may have some facilities but not enough community health workers to keep people connected to care.”
Johnson said the hope is that with financial support, rural communities will be able to overcome access barriers like transportation, stigmatization and the lack of mental healthcare and substance use disorder providers.
The bulk of the funding, around $24 million, is set to go to 26 organizations to build treatment sites for individuals seeking opioid use disorder treatment. Another $20 million will support 41 grantees’ efforts to prevent infant opioid exposure through targeted interventions around care systems and social determinants of health.
Other uses for the grants include helping rural communities expand mental health and substance use disorder services available to young people and respond to their more immediate needs, such as distributing opioid overdose reversal medications like naloxone.
As part of its Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, created to reduce rates of substance use disorder in high-risk rural communities, the agency has invested more than $500 million across 1,500 counties since 2018.