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State Offers Student Debt Repayment For Health Care Workers In Addiction Treatment Field

Narcan nasal spray can reverse an opioid overdose. Its widespread distribution in Allegheny County is credited, in part, with helping reduce the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths.

Pennsylvanians working in the behavioral health care field have the chance to receive money from the state to pay off student loan debt.

Gov. Tom Wolf's aministration is allocating $5 million in federal grant funding towards the Pennsylvania Substance Use Disorder Loan Repayment Program. Doctors, licensed social workers and other behavioral health care professionals who have been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment for at least two years are eligible to apply.

Rachel Levine, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, said this initiative is aimed at increasing services in underserved areas with high rates of opioid use.

“It’s hard to recruit people into specific rural areas,” said Levine. “So, we’re looking at the counties in the west ... and then also into specific urban areas, such as Philadelphia, so we can have the mental health professionals that are needed to address addiction, the opioid crisis, and mental health issues in general.”

A department spokesperson estimates there will be between 85 and 95 recipients for this second round of the loan repayment program. Physicians can be awarded up to $100,000, while others may receive up to $60,000.

In order to recieve the money, awardees must commit to working in the addiction treatment field through Sept. 30, 2021.

The health department says special consideration will be given to people work in one of the 30 Pennsylvania counties that the state has identified as being most impacted by opioid use disorder.

Other characteristics the department says it is prioritizing include whether someone is a legal resident of Pennsylvania, has a connection to the community they work in, or has graduated from a Pennsylvania high school, college, graduate school or residency program.

This is the second time the health department will award funds for student debt repayment to people working in the addiction treatment field. Back in May, it announced the program, with $3 million in funding that was divided among 92 awardees.

Applications are due on Jan. 21.

(Photo credit: Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr)

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.