CEDAR RAPIDS — Addressing the national opioid crisis is “going to take all of us,” Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said during a visit Thursday to Cedar Rapids.
But local officials, during a roundtable discussion at the Area Substance Abuse Council, told the secretary they need help with an Iowa-specific hurdle.
The concern is about how stays in ASAC treatment programs have been shortened since private insurers took over management of Medicaid in Iowa in 2016. That has meant fewer clients are successfully completing the programs, they said.
Melissa Walker, deputy director of ASAC, said the agency has seen a 30 percent to 80 percent reduction in the length of patient stays in treatment programs since the change in Medicaid management.
In fiscal year 2015, clients at the Heart of Iowa residential treatment facility stayed an average 114 days, she said. In fiscal year 2017, the average length of stay was 57 days.
Unless clients can afford to pay for services themselves, she said, some are forced out before they are ready.
“It’s just not long enough to get what they need to really achieve long-term recovery,” Walker said.
Carson, however, told The Gazette that government-funded services are not sustainable, and the solution needs to come from a collaboration of federal, state and local governments and nonprofits and faith-based communities.
“I think there’s enough good will out there,” he said. “It’s just people don’t have a mechanism to exercise that good will.”
Carson, a member of President Donald Trump’s task force to address the opioid crisis, toured ASAC’s Heart of Iowa facility, which provides a place where women overcoming substance abuse can live with their children.
Carson, a neurosurgeon who retired from Johns Hopkins University, praised ASAC for creating multiagency partnerships to combat the opioid issue in Eastern Iowa, including the partnership with Eastern Iowa Community Health Center to provide medicated assisted treatment and counseling for those recovering from addiction.
Carson said programs need to be organized in a way that provides continued support, adding, “We will continue to have a problem until treatment is as easy to access as the drugs.”
Trump, who declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in 2017, unveiled his administration’s plan of action last month. It includes harsher penalties for drug dealing, a reduction in opioid prescriptions and an additional $3 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 to combat the epidemic.
Twenty-seven people died in Linn County in 2016 from opioid-related overdoses, according to Linn County Public Health.
Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi, along with other local officials, called on the secretary to remember local organizations — that “do the heavy lifting” in combating the opioid crisis — when allocating federal funding.
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The HUD secretary during his visit also pushed a “housing-first” philosophy — rapidly housing the homeless and then tackling the problems that led to them to become homeless. He said about a quarter of the homeless population nationwide struggles with addiction.
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