The federal Department of Health and Human Services is giving Missouri nearly $29 million for efforts to treat and prevent opioid addiction in the state.
Nearly one third of the money will directly reimburse clinics that offer substance-abuse programs that use prescription medicines to reduce cravings and keep people in recovery. Another third will go to support such programs at federally qualified health centers, which have not historically been as likely to offer medication-assisted treatment.
“The really big thrust with these grants is to increase access to evidence-based medical treatment for opioid-use disorder — specifically buprenorphine and methadone,” said grant director Rachel Winograd of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, which helps distribute the funds.
The federal government announced the grants one day before Health and Human Services officials — including Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and Surgeon General Jerome Adams — visit the region to discuss opioid use in St. Louis.
In the last two years, the state has used similar funding streams to provide treatment to 3,000 uninsured people and to distribute naloxone — also known by the brand name Narcan — which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
This year’s round of funding gives the state more than it did in the past, Winograd said. The extra funds will help Missouri contract with organizations to reach pregnant women, people of color and other at-risk groups.
“We are really just trying to get those who are at highest risk for opiate use and overdose some potential specialized tailored programming — both in prevention treatment and on the recovery end,” she said.
The state has begun to endorse a medication-first treatment model, which prioritizes medicines such as buprenorphine and methadone. Public health officials refer to them as “maintenance” therapies. They’re legal prescription opioids that reduce a drug-dependent person’s need to get high with heroin or other illegal street drugs or prescription opioids.
Experts consider medication-assisted treatment — along with counseling and other services — the most effective way to keep a person in recovery. Only organizations that subscribe to the treatment model have received the federal grant money, Winograd said.
There were 951 opioid overdose deaths in Missouri in 2017, according to the state health department. While the number of drug-overdose fatalities has been rising in the past decade, the increase wasn’t as steep between 2016 and 2017 as it had been in the years before — a statistic experts see as a positive sign the epidemic may be slowing down.
Winograd plans to meet with HHS officials when they visit Washington University Thursday afternoon for a roundtable discussion. She particularly plans to discuss the opioid epidemic’s outsize effect on African-Americans in St. Louis, she said.
Representatives from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, area hospitals, advocacy organizations and the state Department of Mental Health will also be at the discussion.
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