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Year-long Medicaid program increases access to opioid addiction treatment in Virginia

Health officials call program combating the opioid crisis a success

RICHMOND, Va. – There’s a positive sign Monday in the fight against opioid addiction in Virginia. State health officials announced a one-year program has been successful in combating the crisis.

At a gathering in Richmond, officials released the results of a Medicaid initiative, the Addictions and Recovery Treatment Services program, called ARTS. It combines medication with counseling and other support for addiction treatment, including inpatient detoxification and residential substance use disorder treatment.

Officials compared data from a 9-month period ending in December of 2017 to the same time the year prior and found increased access to treatment and reduced stress on hospital emergency departments.

Data shows there was a nearly two-thirds increase in the number of Medicaid members receiving treatment for a substance use disorder, up to 16,600, and both the number of opioid pain medication prescriptions and emergency hospital visits from Medicaid members decreased by nearly a third.

“We have convincing evidence to show that the strategies that we implemented through the ARTS program are working,” Department of Medical Assistance Services Director Jennifer Lee said. “They are making a difference to combat the opioid epidemic in Virginia."

Officials said training and incentives have led to more locations for treatment. The ARTS program strengthened qualifications for providers and increased reimbursement rates for those who follow research-guided treatment regimens. 

Virginia was the fourth state to obtain permission from federal health officials to use Medicaid funds for residential treatment facilities with more than 16 beds, greatly increasing access to residential services.

“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,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam released a statement Monday, saying the results support the argument for putting more resources into Medicaid.

“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,” Northam said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced its second year of funding for the program. Virginia is scheduled to receive $9.76 million.