The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it will give money to four clinics in Kansas, totaling $1.4 million, to combat the opioid epidemic.
The department described the nationwide rise in use of heroin and prescription opioid painkillers as “a serious and increasing public health problem of great concern to the Administration.”
Stephene Moore, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hosted a conference call Friday to announce the investments for Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.
“There’s ongoing conversations with the health providers and the health care community with regards to those issues with what the significant problems are in this state,” she said.
State officials in November and January said that the state is more concerned with underage drinking and marijuana use than heroin or opioid painkillers.
The state says it’s more concerned with underage drinking and marijuana use than heroin or opioid painkillers. It also said more people still seek help for methamphetamine.
Stacy Chamberlain, director of addiction services for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said Friday that other drugs, such as methamphetamine, continue to have higher treatment numbers than opiates.
The money awarded to each state will work to combat the epidemic in three ways: improved prescribing decisions through training and education; increasing the use of naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug; and expanding substance abuse screening and access to medically assisted treatment.
It’s part of a national push from President Obama to combat the epidemic by widening funding for heroin and prescription abuse.
Waiting list for treatment
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the goal of the $94 million it awarded to 45 states is to expand access to treatment and eventually ensure that every American who wants treatment can access it.
$94 millionawarded to a total 45 states to combat the opioid epidemic
$1.4 million awarded to four treatment centers in Kansas
That’s a big change from the current system in Kansas.
Chamberlain said the state doesn’t know how many people are waiting for treatment, or how long they’ve waited.
“I do know we continue to have wait lists,” she said.
She said the state also doesn’t know if anyone has overdosed or died while waiting for treatment because the state doesn’t compare the names of people who overdose with the names of those waiting for treatment.
The state doesn’t know if anyone has overdosed or died while waiting for treatment because it doesn’t compare the names of people who overdose with the names of those waiting for treatment.
Chamberlain said the state gives out federal money to rehab centers that provide care for people who can’t pay for it on their own or through insurance. But the money available doesn’t cover all the people who need it, so pregnant women and IV drug users are given priority and the rest have to wait.
Harold Casey, CEO of the Substance Abuse Center of Kansas, which serves indigent clients in 29 counties, said in January that most state-funded patients receive two or three weeks of inpatient services after waiting two to three months to receive it. He said it’s rare to receive a full 30 days of inpatient treatment.
Nonetheless, Chamberlain said she plans to reach out to the four Kansas clinics that received money to see how she and the state can help support them.
“I’m really excited to work with all of those programs,” she said. She later added: “We’re really excited that people are grabbing onto these opportunities.”
Overdoses up in Kansas
Overdose death rates quadrupled in Kansas from 1999 to 2013 for 12- to 24-year-olds, according to a study by Trust for America’s Health released late last year. The study included prescription and illicit drugs.
Only Wyoming saw a greater jump than Kansas.
Nonetheless, Kansas’ overdose rate is below the national average.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 19 people in Kansas died from heroin overdoses in 2014. The group cautioned that heroin deaths are often under-reported.
A state work group formed nearly two years ago to address drug abuse in Kansas. But the group has yet to finalize a plan from its findings.
Chamberlain said the person who led the work group no longer works for her agency, so the plan has been stalled for now.
Sarah Fischer, prevention program director for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told The Eagle in January that underage drinking and marijuana use are bigger issues in Kansas than drug overdoses.
“We’ve got a lot of issues on our plate, and it doesn’t necessarily always rise to the top,” Fischer said in January.
We’ve got a lot of issues on our plate, and it doesn’t necessarily always rise to the top.
Sarah Fischer, state prevention program director
Overdose-reversal drug not available in Kansas
Kansas is one of six states that do not allow doctors to prescribe an overdose-reversing drug to addicts and their families and friends, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The drug is called naloxone and is currently carried by some EMS personnel on ambulances in Kansas. But ambulances often don’t arrive until the person is already dead, because of how fast the user’s brain shuts down after too much heroin is injected.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that states expand access to naloxone.
Chamberlain, director of addiction services for the state, said she didn’t yet know if her agency would push for expanded access to naloxone in Kansas.
“We are not seeing the numbers for overdoses (compared to coastal rates) so that would be something we need to research further,” she said.
Timothy Scanlan, a retired medical doctor who specialized in addiction in Wichita, said some critics question whether access to naloxone would encourage drug use.
“I don’t think those are really valid points,” he said in January. “The fact is, people are going to use drugs.”
He later added: “This can certainly save people’s lives.”
Kansas clinics awarded $1.4 million to combat the opioid epidemic are:
▪ Center for Health and Wellness, Wichita, $325,000
▪ Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Pittsburg, $325,000
▪ GraceMed Health Clinic, Wichita, $379,167
▪ United Methodist Western Kansas Mexican-American Ministries, Garden City, $379,167
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services