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Pa. health systems get $4 million to provide medicine and therapy to people addicted to heroin, painkillers

Patriot-News - 10/18/2017

Oct. 18--Four of Pennsylvania's biggest health systems each have received $1 million state grants to expand availability of medicines widely seen as some peoples' best hope of overcoming addiction to heroin and opioid painkillers.

The health systems are expected to use the grants to establish a "hub and spoke" approach where a centrally-located addiction specialist will support family doctors who want to prescribe medications to patients who are addicted. The goal is to expand availability of the medication as well as therapy and other support needed to make so-called "medication assisted treatment" work.

Medication assisted treatment involves medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone, which can control cravings for opioids or block the effects of the opioid so it produces no high.

There's growing evidence-based belief that for many addicts, abstinence alone won't lead to long-term recovery, and medication assisted treatment is the best way for them to remain free of illegal drugs.

The recipients of the grants are Penn State Health, which is the parent of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Geisinger, WellSpan Health and Allegheny Health Network.

One of the challenges faced by people trying to recover from opioid addiction has been limited availability or no availability of medication assisted treatment, depending on where they live. The state had previously begun addressing the shortage by establishing a network of so-called Centers for Excellence around the state. The Centers for Excellence are aimed at people covered by Medicaid. The centers receiving the $1 million grants are intended to expand access to people covered by private insurance.

"It's clear that Pennsylvania needs a new and comprehensive approach to this disease," Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, the CEO of Penn State Health, said in a news release. "We know from research that when treatment includes both medication and therapy, patients do better. And when patients do better, families and communities do better."

Penn State Health will base the medication assisted treatment services at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, which is located in Harrisburg and which is a collaboration between Penn State Health and UPMC Pinnacle.

Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's physician general and acting secretary of health, said in a news release, "These grants will provide more primary care physicians with the support they need to prescribe medication-assisted treatment to their patients. These grants will lay the groundwork for patients to receive quality addiction treatment in their community."

The grants come from $26.5 million in federal funds Pennsylvania has received to help address the opioid addiction crisis.


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