Lawmakers told of needs in ongoing fight against opioid addiction

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Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, responds to a comment by Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control and Policy.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ)  The opioid epidemic facing the nation sadly has not left Kentucky untouched.

Over the last eight years, the Kentucky General Assembly has allocated funding and passed several bills to combat the crisis and hold those who make the issue worse accountable.

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During Tuesday’s Substance Use Recovery Task Force meeting, Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control and Policy, kicked off the conversation with lawmakers on what Kentucky has done and is doing to combat the substance abuse epidemic.

Ingram also told lawmakers these programs need reliable funding sources and more funding, if possible.

“These core dollars that we’re receiving are crucial,” Ingram said. “… It’s difficult for states and organizations to plan when we have these one-year grants.”

Ingram told committee co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, there is a bipartisan bill working its way through the U.S. Congress that could guarantee up to six years of funding.

“Co-chair Alvarado and I may be working together on some solutions to help you with your request to Congress,” committee co-chair Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville responded.

Representatives from treatment centers across the Commonwealth also shared the challenges and needs facing their facilities and patients with lawmakers.

Mike Cox, president of Isaiah House, shared research with lawmakers that shows money invested in addiction treatment reduces drug related-crime, judicial costs and medical costs.

“The article continues by stating good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length,” Cox said.

Cox said that many health insurance companies will only pay for short-term treatment rather than long-term treatment and many people cannot afford to pay for long-term treatment on their own.

“The deeply rooted issues of addiction as we know are not solved quickly,” Cox said. “Trying to treat addiction in 21 days is like treating cancer with Tylenol: It doesn’t work.”

Cox added that the biggest issue facing Kentuckians isn’t that there aren’t enough beds for patients, but that access to the beds available is hindered by patients not being able to afford quality care.

Dr. Tuyen Tran and Dr. Marvin Bishop with 2nd Chance Center for Addiction Treatment shared with lawmakers that in rural areas it’s more difficult for patients to seek care due to lack of transportation.

Although telehealth access and services expanded recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tran said there are still some barriers when it comes to substance abuse treatment.

“The DEA has a clause, the Ryan Haight Act, which requires that the initial visit be an in-person, face-to-face visit if you wish to prescribe a controlled substance,” Tran said.

According to Tran and Bishop’s presentation, many people seeking substance abuse treatment require the use of controlled substances to treat their addiction.

Tran also agreed with Isaiah House’s claim that insurance providers, including Medicaid, hinder access to quality treatment.

According to Tran, there are restrictions in place on mental health counseling services and how many drug screenings a patient can have and what type of screenings.

“I know it’s very difficult to articulate language and verbiage to draft in a piece of legislation, but instead of having hard, arbitrary (language), allow the clinicians to do what we normally do and what we were trained to do, which is use our judgement,” Tran said.

Alvarado responded that he believes there’s some legislation in the works to make the expanded access to telehealth due to COVID-19 permanent, however, there may be some federal restrictions.