Federal officials are issuing roughly $1.5 billion to healthcare providers and other organizations to help them use telehealth and other tools to combat the opioid abuse crisis.
In the first year of the two-year, $3 billion State Opioid Response (SOR) and Tribal Opioid Response (TOR) grant programs, the money is being dispensed to state and Tribal agencies through the Health and Human Service Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The funds go to a wide variety of evidence-based programs – included medication-assisted treatment (MAT) therapy and “innovative telehealth strategies” – designed to improve access to substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and community-based support services.
“Programs such as these are instrumental because they facilitate greater access to evidence-based treatment,” Elinore F. McCance-Katz, MD, PhD, HHS’ assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, said in a press release. “Now, more than ever, this access to treatment for those with substance use disorders is especially critical.”
The grants continue a long-standing effort to tackle a growing problem that surfaced well before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. And with COVID-19 hindering care providers in treating patients in person, many are turning to telehealth and mHealth platforms and tools.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t put a pause on our country’s opioid crisis,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the press release. “We’re committed to a science-based approach for fighting the opioid crisis, focusing these State and Tribal Opioid Response grants on providing the gold standard for treatment: medication-assisted treatment with appropriate psychosocial services and community supports.”
Congress is looking to help out as well. In July, Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act, which would make permanent certain emergency actions passed during the coronavirus pandemic to boost telehealth access for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives and the increase in overdoses we’re seeing only increases the need for additional flexibility to help those suffering from addiction,” Portman said in a press release. “The roll out of telehealth waivers has both helped patients maintain access to care safely at home and increased access to care for those that didn’t otherwise have access to in-person treatment. As we move forward and look to life beyond this pandemic, we must make sure that the advances to care and access that telehealth is currently providing is not lost and that’s exactly what this bill will do.”