For a second year, West Virginia will receive more than $28 million to support addiction recovery efforts from the federal State Opioid Response program, which provides grants awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
SOR funds are meant to strengthen the fight against opioid addiction and help those in recovery by increasing access to evidence-based recovery initiatives and collaboration between programs.
“This additional money, as part of the State Opioid Grant, will allow additional treatment and recovery services for those suffering from a substance use disorder and will assist in expanding access to Medication Assisted Treatment and related services throughout our state,” Bill Crouch, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said in a statement. “West Virginia appreciates the continued support and funding from the Trump administration to combat the opioid crisis.”
Money for the SOR grants from SAMHSA, which is an arm of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, was initially included in the 2018 omnibus government funding bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last March. Since then, West Virginia has received $70.7 million in the grants — about $28 million each fiscal year, and $14.6 million that was dispersed in March as supplemental funds to the grants.
DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler said the agency, which is responsible for disbursing the grant money to programs in the state that apply, has not announced who will receive funds yet.
Last year, the state released a plan on how to best utilize money from the SOR grants, with one of the first steps being to build a collaboration between the state’s medical schools to fight the epidemic at every level.
Experts at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, West Virginia University and Marshall University have been working for a year to train current students and those already in the field on how to better assess and treat people suffering from opioid use disorder.
“We’re talking every single week, between the schools,” said Dr. Lyn O’Connell with the Marshall School of Medicine. “That collaboration across the state is a unique part of this. Normally, when grant dollars come down, you’re competing with people in your state, but also nationally. This allowed the three schools to come together and work on something that affects all of us.”
The training sessions help medical students become more familiar with substance abuse, which can help reduce the stigma associated with the disorder and potential biases for treating it. They also help social work students learn how to better help those in recovery, as well as their families.
“We’re really trying to prepare them with some knowledge, content and also practical skills, so they can move into working in the recovery community with those well-rounded ideals,” said Deana Morrow, director of WVU’s School of Social Work. ”When you get that knowledge in, with that training, they can help those in recovery access care better, making their families stronger, and then their communities stronger, as well.”
The SOR funds specifically instruct those receiving the money to help increase access to MAT programs, such as Suboxone or Vivitrol treatments, for those in recovery. O’Connell referred to this treatment as “the gold standard” compared to institutions that would use complete detoxification programs, which statistically lead to higher rates of relapse and shorter stints in rehabilitation.
“[MAT] has a low barrier of access and care — patients don’t have to move in, like with a treatment facility. They can remain in their home, focus on maintaining or regaining their place in the workforce,” O’Connell said. “There is one problem, though: Not having enough providers in this state is a single block in the pipeline, and these grants are part of correcting that.”
Northwood Health Systems, in the Northern Panhandle, also was a recipient of a past SOR grant, and it’s using the more than $200,000 it received to do just that, said Jeremy Sagun, director of substance abuse programs at the organization.
“We now have increased resources to make sure we can get more people access to medically assisted treatment that have opioid use disorder, because we know that treatment is the gold standard and is very effective,” Sagun said. “Unfortunately, though, most people that need it don’t get it, because of an access problem.”
Northwood offers MAT programs at its Weirton and Wheeling locations, and because of the demand for more — potential patients could be put on waiting lists with no definitive time of entry — the money is going to be used to take in more patients and help retain those who do come in for longer.
The organization also will begin a transportation pilot program in Wetzel County, where patients for MAT programs will be picked up and taken to MAT, if they don’t have their own transportation.
Sagun said the expansion of services is something Northwood would have liked to have undertaken a while ago — there’s been a demand for services — but through SOR grants, it became possible in the present.
“We’d like to say that we could — we would — have done this without the federal money, but these types of opportunities, when they come along, they help us get a start on it and put us into action,” Sagun said. “We can do it a lot faster, and become a real ‘response’ to the issue — that’s the whole point.”