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Confronting an opioid crisis: Beacon funding supports local efforts

Beacon Health Options (Beacon) believes that excellent health care is local health care. Standing by that belief, Beacon is distributing $128,000 in grants to four community-based behavioral health organizations that are combatting the opioid crisis in Massachusetts at the grassroots level.

Nationwide, opioid deaths in 2018 totaled 68,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the first six months of 2019, in the relatively small state of Massachusetts, there have been 611 confirmed opioid-related deaths, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Viewing opioid use disorder (OUD) as a chronic disease, Beacon is granting the funding to help the awardees increase their clients’ access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), a protocol that the evidence supports as a best-practice for treating the chronic nature of OUD.

The organizations won the grants through a competitive process, and their projects represent varied approaches to successfully implementing MAT. The awardees and their projects are as follows:

Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program: Implementing mobile health and MAT services with telehealth cognitive behavioral therapy on the program’s mobile addiction clinic

Bournewood Health Systems: Developing an outpatient MAT program, including the use of smart-phone technology

Lowell House: Utilizing Uber Health to mitigate transportation barriers to accessing MAT

North Suffolk Mental Health: Adopting software technology to increase engagement and adherence to MAT treatment plans

Standing by the evidence base

Beacon supports an evidenced-based care approach and repeated research confirms the effectiveness of MAT. In fact, when prescribed and monitored properly, MAT:

• Decreases OUD-related overdose deaths

• Increases individuals’ retention in treatment

• Improves social functioning

• Reduces the risk of infectious-disease transmission and criminal activity

However, in spite of MAT’s proven effectiveness – especially in conjunction with therapy – access to and utilization of MAT have been low. Reasons include a lack of trained prescribers as well as negative attitudes held by the public, providers and patients alike; many people feel that it is trading one drug for another.

“When it comes to treating opioid use disorder, we have to shed the idea that there is an underlying moral issue to a treatment that the evidence supports,” said Susan Coakley, President of Beacon’s Northeast Region. “We wouldn’t deprive people who have diabetes of their insulin, so why would we deprive individuals with OUD of the option for medication-assisted treatment? Our hope is that the programs awarded this funding will improve access to MAT in a variety of ways.”

Looking to the future

Beacon believes in the creativity and innovation of those professionals who work with society’s most vulnerable individuals – on the streets, in local clinics, in Emergency Departments and beyond. To that end, funding is in place for one year, with the potential for the organization to qualify for a second year of funding.

With creativity and a trial-and-error approach and the funds to support it, society at large has a better chance to combat an opioid crisis that shows no signs of abating any time soon. Indeed, Beacon calls upon all system stakeholders – providers, payers, policymakers, individuals and families – to think differently, act accordingly and to support those who have the courage and commitment to do so.

We at Beacon congratulate the four awardees and look forward to supporting them in making their projects successful.

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