As Pennsylvania struggles to halt its heroin-addiction epidemic, experts say opioid users may need longer-term care similar to patients with chronic health problems.
“This is more like diabetes. Some [people] are going to need diet and exercise, and others are going to need insulin for the rest of their lives,” said Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania.
“It’s no different with addiction, except there’s so much stigma around it, people can’t look at it quite the same.”
Funding cuts in recent years have forced some county-level programs to ration their help, Beck said. A combination of state and federal funds flows down to county offices.
“If you are lucky enough to go to treatment at the beginning of the fiscal year, you may get everything you need. If you come in toward the end of the fiscal year, some of the single-county authorities in drug and alcohol tell me they are flat out of these bucks by Halloween,” Beck said.
Services provided through the county offices are “stop-gap” help for people who are uninsured and not enrolled in the Medicaid health plan, according to Gary Tennis, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
Residents are offered treatment assistance while state employees work to get them signed up for Medicaid, a process that can take five or six weeks.
“More people get shorter doses of treatment, even if you have somebody who needs three, four, five months of residential to start out with, they may only be able to pay for two weeks or four weeks, because they don’t want to run out of money,” said Tennis.
In fiscal year 2011-2012, about 52,000 treatment admissions were reported to the state’s tracking service for the drug and alcohol treatment providers that receive federal or state funds.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s new spending plan proposes to bump up the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs budget by $5 million.
This week, Beck and Tennis appeared on WITF’s Smart Talk to talk about how to treat addiction successfully.
Tennis says he’d use the new funds to enroll more people in Medicaid, which he says has robust health benefits for substance abuse treatment.
He’d also like to encourage “warm handoffs” to ensure that drug-overdose victims who land in the emergency room get a strong referral to substance abuse help after the crisis is over.
Wolf said he’s working toward a full expansion of the Medicaid program in Pennsylvania, and Beck said that step would give many more working poor people access to addiction help.