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Midtown clinics tap federal funding for opiate and heroin abuse treatment

By Cathy Mckitrick, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Mar 17, 2016
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In this photo from 2012, people wait to be seen by caregivers during the Women's Health Connection at Midtown Community Health Center in Ogden. Midtown is one of 11 clinics across the state to receive help through the Affordable Care Act.

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Enrollment Specialist Steeven Alvarez works with Wendie Herland, of Farr West, at the Midtown Community Health Center on Adams Ave. in Ogden on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (BRIANA SCROGGINS/Standard-Examiner)

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A man enters the Midtown Community Health Center at 2240 Adams Ave. in Ogden Friday.

OGDEN — Thanks to a federal grant, Midtown Community Health Center clinics in Weber and Davis counties will soon be able to offer medication-assisted treatment to uninsured heroin and opiate addicts.

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $94 million in Affordable Care Act funding would be distributed to 271 health centers in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with the aim of treating underserved populations that would otherwise go without.

“The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States today,” HHS secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a statement announcing the grants. “Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and integrating these services in health centers bolsters nationwide efforts to curb opioid misuse and abuse, supports approximately 124,000 new patients accessing substance use treatment for recovery and helps save lives.”

Midtown Community Health Center’s executive director, Alicia Martinez, said they applied for funding last fall and recently received word of a $350,000 award to be used over three years.

“We’ll be partnering with the Lantern House, Weber Human Services, Davis Behavioral Health and also Salt Lake,” Martinez said in terms of outside referrals. “The grant will allow us to treat about 160 people per year, mainly in Weber and Davis Counties.”

The medication-assisted treatment will utilize vivitrol and suboxone to help wean people off their heroin and opioid addictions. Behavioral therapy is also part of that program. 

“Those medications are pretty expensive. But we will also have a psychiatrist on hand and a substance abuse counselor added to our staff,” Martinez said. “This is going to be an absolutely wonderful resource for our patients. To be able to fill that gap for uninsured patients is going to be a very big deal.”

Rather than treating these patients and sending them out the door, Martinez hopes that Midtown can become their medical home.

“We have an integrated clinic that allows us to take care of patients on the whole person approach,” Martinez said.

Such help cannot come soon enough. According to HHS estimates, the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain medications almost quadrupled from 1999 to 2013, and heroin-related deaths spiked 39 percent between 2012 and 2013.

About 4.5 million people nationwide used prescription pain medication for nonmedical purposes in 2013, and an estimated 289,000 were current heroin users.

“Health centers treat some of the most at-risk patients in the country,” said Jim Macrae, acting administrator for Health Resources and Services Administration. “These awards position health centers to be at the forefront of the fight against opioid abuse in underserved communities.”

In light of the opioid overdose epidemic raging across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations Tuesday for primary care physicians who are prescribing opioids to chronic pain patients, with the exception of cancer, palliative and end-of-life care.

In addition to improving safety and reducing risks linked to opioid use, the new guideline also urges the use of non-opioid medications and non-drug therapies to ease pain.

“More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Overprescribing opioids — largely for chronic pain — is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic. The guideline will give physicians and patients the information they need to make more informed decisions about treatment.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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