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How will federal opioid addiction funding help the St. Louis area?

St. Louis County Police Officer Kathy Poncin practices administering Narcan Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 while emergency physician David Tan looks on.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio file photo
St. Louis County police received training and a supply of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone earlier this year. Other area departments could follow suit with a new federal grant.

Federal dollars for the prevention of overdose deaths caused by opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers are being sent to St. Louis area counties in both Missouri and Illinois.

Each state also received one additional federal grant aimed at fighting the national opioid crisis. One will help the Missouri Department of Health better track opioid overdoses. The other will increase access to medication-assisted addiction treatment in Illinois, but the Metro East won’t benefit from that grant.

The director of Illinois’ alcoholism and substance abuse division, Maria Bruni, said the three-year, $3 million grant is a targeted grant and there’s only enough money to help a few hundred people.

In contrast, Bruni said new rules expanding what addiction treatment Medicaid can pay for will have a much greater impact.

“That’s going to affect thousands and thousands of people,” Bruni said. “I’m trying not to dismiss this grant because we’re very proud we got it, but this is a very small, targeted capacity expansion grant. It’s not meant to provide services to lots and lots of people.”

One of those rule changes is a state-planned amendment expected to go into effect in January. It will allow Medicaid to pay for methadone treatment in Illinois.

The other change is a Medicaid 1115 waiver that is slated to be in place by next June. Bruni said the waiver will increase access to detox services and pay for ongoing recovery support once someone finishes intensive treatment.

Overdose prevention

Illinois is splitting its five-year, $5 million federal grant to prevent opioid overdose deaths between six counties: four in the northeast part of the state in and around Chicago, and St. Clair and Madison Counties in the Metro East.

Meanwhile Missouri is focusing its entire $5 million grant on the eastern region of the state, including the St. Louis area and the Bootheel.

The grants will put thousands of overdose antidote kits into the hands of first responders and other groups likely to come across someone dying of an overdose.

“This is something that does not have to cost small municipal police departments anything. And cost is a barrier. The cost of naloxone has gone up considerably over the last couple of years,” said Howard Weissman, the director of St. Louis-based addiction education and advocacy organization NCADA.

NCADA will be partnering with the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, an arm of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, to implement the overdose prevention grant for Missouri.

The funds will also pay for training on how to use the antidote naloxone, public awareness campaigns and for the coordination of services between treatment providers and law enforcement.

Missouri Institute of Mental Health Director Rob Paul said bringing all the stakeholders together to be a part the planning could be the key to the region getting a handle on the opioid crisis.

“If this becomes the lightning bolt behind it all, that would be really fantastic. And that’s the goal, is to get all of these different parties together underneath a common framework,” Paul said.

In order for that to happen, Paul said community outreach and education to reduce stigma will be essential.

“If you just disseminate the (naloxone) kits but you don’t address the individual concerns or those professional concerns or those legal concerns and how they’re  interacting with that moment of crisis then we’re probably not going to have the success that one could have,” Paul said. “There’s data that are available now that help to break down those barriers and the stigma that’s associated with the entire construct and we need to disseminate that information in an effective format.”

Chestnut Health Systems will implement the program in the Metro East.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.