Health Center News

Health Centers on the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic

The nationwide opioid epidemic is getting a lot of attention in Washington, where there have been hearings focusing on the cause of the public health crisis now claiming thousands of lives.  Opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl) killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In addition to overdose deaths, the U.S. has experienced an increase in rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome (newborns with withdrawal symptoms), hepatitis C infections, HIV and increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

There is also a lot of public debate among health experts about long term strategies to fight opioid addiction and substance use disorders (SUD).  Community Health Centers are among the responders who are working hard to prevent and treat opioid addiction and substance use disorders.  Patient visits at health centers for behavioral health services, including mental health and substance use disorders, have grown by 83 percent since 2010. There has also been investment to boost health centers’ ability to provide primary care-based SUD services, including medication assisted treatment (MAT), pain management, and other prevention services. Last year, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $200 million to 1,178 health centers across the nation to expand services for mental health services and treatment.  HRSA also awarded $94 million to 271 health centers through Substance Abuse Services Expansion funding to increase capacity to treat patients with substance use disorder.

HRSA has launched a new web page that provides resources and showcases the work health centers are doing to integrate SUD treatment and services into primary care. HRSA’s site features health centers piloting promising and innovative solutions, such as teleheath (approximately 150 health centers are using ECHO to treat opioid use disorder), acupuncture, chiropractic services, group therapy and services directed at pain management, a key driver of opioid use.   You can read more about health centers’ work to combat the opioid epidemic in the NACHC issue brief, “Rising to the Challenge: Community Health Centers Are Making Substance Use Disorder Treatment More Accessible Than Ever,” published last March.

NACHC has also convened an internal working group to gather information from the field and learn more about promising practices and SUD treatment at health centers, and to document the challenges health centers confront integrating SUD treatment into primary care. We’ll keep you posted.