Heroin use among young adults has doubled in the last decade.
As the nation’s attention increasingly turns to a substance-abuse epidemic and a surge of overdose deaths, the Obama administration is pumping $500 million into community health centers in part to better equip them to help patients with alcohol and drug problems.
Using funding authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the Health and Human Services Department announced Tuesday that it was awarding $350 million in grants to nearly 1,200 community health centers across the country to expand their services. Another $150 million is being given to 160 centers to pay for construction and renovation.
The expanded-services grants could pay for a variety of services, from oral health to pharmacy care, helping centers stay open longer and hire more staff. But a particular aim is to bolster their ability to treat people with alcohol and substance-abuse problems, said Jim Macrae, acting administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration within HHS, in an interview.
About 1.4 million of the 23 million Americans that health centers see annually have some kind of alcohol or drug problem. The numbers have been improving, but nearly 40 percent of the 1,300 health centers still don’t provide substance-abuse services, according to HHS.
“The ability to provide some resources to help support that kind of care and treatment on site in a primary-care setting, we think will be invaluable for the patients at the health centers,” he said.
Doing something about the nation’s drug problem has become a focus for both parties in recent years, amid growing evidence that the problem is getting worse. Heroin in particular is seen as a scourge, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called it an epidemic. Heroin use among young adults has doubled in the last decade, according to the CDC, and the number of overall overdose-related deaths quadrupled over roughly the same period.
The White House announced in August a new initiative to fight opioid abuse, funneling $2.5 million to hire public-health staff in five areas plagued by the narcotic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged the surgeon general to produce a report on the issue, and McConnell co-sponsored bipartisan legislation on prenatal opioid addiction. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made mental health and substance abuse one of the first policy areas for which she released a detailed plan during her campaign.
“This crisis of opioid-related overdoses strikes without regard to geography, age, race, or socioeconomic status, and it requires an immediate and sustained response,” McConnell said in a May statement.
Macrae portrayed the new Obamacare funding as part of an overall national strategy to combat drug abuse. His agency has also started to coordinate with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, another branch of HHS, to help train and offer technical assistance to health care providers.
One trend that he reported seeing is more primary-care centers wanting to add mental-health and substance-abuse services, and mental-health providers wanting to add primary-care services. One mental-health facility in Indiana, which saw an HIV outbreak earlier this year because of shared-needle use, applied for and received an Obamacare health-center grant in May, for example.
“We’re seeing this interesting phenomenon where we have behavioral-health providers, substance-abuse providers saying, ‘We really recognize we need to provide primary care in addition to what we traditionally provide,’” Macrae said. “And then on the other side, you’re seeing from the health-center side, traditional primary-care providers recognizing, ‘We really need to add oral-health services, we need to add behavioral services, we now need to add services that will address substance abuse.’
“We’re seeing more and more demand for those types of resources,” he added.
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