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Federal Grant To Help Under And Uninsured Pennsylvanians Get Help With Heroin Addiction

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA
Pennsylvania is getting more than $26 million to help combat the state's opioid epidemic.

Pennsylvania has been awarded a $26.5 million federal grant to combat the heroin crisis. 

The first requirement of the grant is to perform a needs assessment within four months of receiving the funds.

“So we have to look at our treatment system here in Pennsylvania and really determine where we see gaps,” Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith said. “And then that needs assessment will really drive a strategic plan for then utilizing the bulk of that treatment money.”

The funds come from a $1 billion pool created by the 21st Century Cures Act, initiated by the Obama administration. The funds were distributed in all 50 states, with Pennsylvania receiving the fourth-largest allocation behind California, Texas and Florida.

The amount allocated to each state is based on the number of overdoses in 2016 and an estimate of the number of untreated opioid abusers.

The money is meant to target underinsured and uninsured drug users with an emphasis on getting them into medically assisted treatment programs.

However, Gov. Tom Wolf’s Secretary of Policy and Planning, Sarah Galbally, said just handling addiction with medically assisted treatment is not enough.

“We know that there are multiple needs that need to be addressed,” she said. “There is often co-occurring mental health issues, that there are often co-occurring physical health issues and so making sure that we are treating the whole person, as well has making sure that the community supports are in place for them to be successful.”

Smith said the plan is to create eight or nine centers scattered throughout the state where users can be paired with addiction specialists who will guide them to other types of support, including housing and employment assistance.

She referred to a program at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC as a possible model.

Patty Genday, executive director of women’s services at the hospital, said they had been seeing a spike in the number of pregnant women addicted to heroin, so in 2014 they opened a “pregnancy recovery center.” She said it uses a medical home model approach, which includes prenatal care, social and behavioral health consultations and medically assisted addiction treatment.

“They build relationships with the patient, they help the patient deal with their issue and to build trust so that they want to continue to receive care and don’t want to use illicit drugs,” Genday said.

Along with the centers, the state will spend money on prevention programs, including ones intended to help doctors better understand proper opioid prescribing practices and training on using the state’s prescription drug monitoring database.

“In some cases, we may channel the funding through our single county authorities. In some cases, we may offer the opportunity for providers to apply directly," Smith said.  “In other cases it would be the state directly granting money to specific entities.”

Galbally said the state is also looking at what happens after the grant money is gone by working closely with care providers and insurance companies.

“Bringing in partners to make sure that we have a sustainable model and that insurance companies are willing to participate in this type of treatment system,” Galbally said.

The state estimates that the funds will allow it to provide care to 6,000 uninsured and underinsured Pennsylvanians.