Va. opioid program increasing access to treatment, lowering number of prescriptions

Virginia News
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It has been eight months since Aubrey Gholson sought treatment for his addiction.

Now, he visits Daily Planet Health Services in Richmond once a week. 

“My life today is great,” said Gholson. 

He benefits from a Virginia initiative called the Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services or ARTS program

The program, which launched last April, expands access to residential treatment for Medicaid members. It also creates new care models that combine medication with counseling and support and offers training and financial incentives to increase provider participation. 

On Monday, state health leaders gathered at Daily Planet Health Services to review the one-year results of ARTS. 

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy evaluated the results of the program’s first nine months, from April through December 2017.

Some of the highlights include: 

  • 16,600 Medicaid members received treatment for substance use disorder, a nearly two-thirds increase over the same nine months of the previous year.
  • Of those, more than 10,500 members were treated for opioid addiction, a 51 percent increase from the same period of 2016.
  • The total number of prescriptions for opioid pain medications for Medicaid members declined by nearly one third over the evaluation period.
  • Hospital emergency department visits by Medicaid members due to opioid use declined by nearly one third, to 3,100 in the nine-month study period in 2017.

Dr. Jennifer Lee is director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), which runs the ARTS program. 

She said other states and national policymakers recognize the progress made in Virginia. 

“The president and the new federal commission on combating the opioid epidemic set as a goal decreasing opioid prescribing by one-third in three years. We’ve hit that mark in one year,” said Lee. 

Dr. Katherine Neuhausen, Chief Medical Officer for DMAS, said providers have been responding to the growing need for addiction treatment. 

“Today, more than 350 new organizations are providing these life-saving services to Virginia Medicaid members. The number of outpatient opioid treatment services has increased from six to 108, including 79 office-based opioid treatment programs combining medication with counseling and other essential supports,” said Neuhausen. 

Right now, the Virginia General Assembly is still debating whether to include Medicaid expansion in the upcoming two-year state budget. 

It’s something Gov. Ralph Northam has been pushing for. 

“If we expand our Medicaid eligibility to cover up to 400,000 more Virginians, as I have proposed, this initiative could save many more lives,” he said. 

Gholson said, while he is happy to see more options for Medicaid members, increased access alone won’t solve the health crisis. 

“It’s just like a regular job. You’ve got to want to get up and go do it so you can get the benefit from it,” he said. “But it’ll definitely make your life better.” 

To learn more about ARTS, click HERE

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