Health leaders release Virginia Opioid Treatment Program results

Published: Apr. 23, 2018 at 2:21 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 23, 2018 at 6:53 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - State health leaders released results Monday from a one-year key initiative program addressing the opioid crisis in Virginia.

The Addictions and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program has seen in a significant increase in the number of people receiving treatment for opioid and other substance use disorders, according to Christina Nuckols with the VA Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS).

Data shows 16,600 Medicaid patients received treatment for substance use disorder from April to December of 2017. Of that number, more than 10,500 patients were treated for opioid addiction; a 51 percent increase from the same period of 2016.

"I have the ups and the down days, but compared to the way it used to be, today my life is... I just feel blessed," said Aubrey Gholson, a recovering addict.

Gholson is one of the thousands of Virginia Medicaid patients taking part in the ARTS program. He says he abused drugs for many years, but this program has turned his life around.

"Drugs have only led me to prison or... I haven't made death yet, but I have a lot of friends who have made it," Gholson said.

2017 preliminary overdose rate:

2017 preliminary overdose rate

Click the map above to view more specific locality data. (Source: Virginia Department of Health/NBC Washington)

"More people die from overdose now than die in car accidents," said Jennifer Lee, Director of the Department of Medical Assistance Services. "It's a public health crisis.

Lee said the results from this program after one year are significant.

Data shows the number of the Medicaid patients with substance abuse problems who sought treatment jumped to 38 percent after the program was put in place.

The same goes for opioid treatment patients which increased to 62 percent in only nine months.

"It keeps me motivated on a daily basis and it keeps me grounded," Gholson said.

"When we have successful programs it often comes together because of people focused on the mission," said Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey. "People are focused on the friends and families in the community we touch."

The issue now heads to the statehouse where lawmakers debate on Medicaid expansion. It would help get more patients on board with the ARTS program.

"By expanding our network of providers who can treat addiction, Virginia's Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program has given us new tools to fight the opioid epidemic," said Governor Ralph Northam. "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."

"Nearly four in five drug overdoses last year were caused by prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl," Carey said. "Individuals, families, and communities across the Commonwealth are counting on us to implement solutions like ARTS and bring them to scale in order reduce the human toll from these addictive drugs."

The program expands access to residential treatment for all Medicaid members, creates new care models combining medication with counseling and other supports, and offers training and financial incentives to increase provider participation. It also includes hard work.

"It will work… You've got to want it to work though," Gholson said. "You've got to put in some work, but it will definitely make your life better."

"We must never forget that people with addiction can and do recover," said Chief Medical Officer with VA DMAS Dr. Kate Neuhausen. "They can and do become valued employees, good neighbors and loving parents."

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Data also shows a decline in the number of visits to the emergency room related to opioid use. From April to December of 2017 that number decreased 31 percent from 2016.

In regard to opioid pain prescriptions, data shows there was a 29 percent decrease from 2016 to 2017.

Lee said this effort falls in line with President Trump's initiative to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions by one-third in the next three years.

"Here in Virginia, we're on the verge of achieving that goal with prescriptions for opioids for our Medicaid members in only one year," she added.

Health leaders said the program serves as a model for other in dealing with the opioid crisis.

"States like Kentucky, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Tennessee… We welcome the opportunity to share what we've learned and to work with other states to address the opioid epidemic," Lee said.

Neuhausen said the ARTS program has strengthened qualifications for providers and increased reimbursement rates for those who follow research-guided treatment regimens. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) offered extensive training to providers interested in participating in the ARTS program. The Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) assisted with implementation of regulations based on national opioid prescribing guidelines.

"Today, more than 350 new organizations are providing these life-saving services to Virginia Medicaid members," Neuhausen said. "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."

Despite the increase in the number of doctors providing treatment, health leaders said there are some gaps across the state, specifically in the Southwest when it comes to getting this program in place.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced its second year of funding through the Opioid State Targeted Response program. Virginia is getting $9.76 million.

For more information, please visit the Virginia's Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program website.

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