BLOG: Why Does Pennsylvania Need the Centers of Excellence?

Opioid use has reached epidemic proportions both nationally and in Pennsylvania. It affects every walk of life: rich, poor, black, white, young, or old, and every area: urban, suburban, and rural. It is unprejudiced in its reach and devastation. One thing has become abundantly clear – opioid addiction is an illness. In order to address this illness we need to think about addiction treatment in a different way.

The current path of treatment for people who have opioid-related substance use disorders can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The links between behavioral health treatment and physical health treatment are often broken or not made at all. This means people may drop out of treatment after they receive care for their physical symptoms, but then they miss the critical other part of their care that focuses on their behavioral symptoms. These people also tend to miss out on vital community supports.

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Pennsylvania is going to change that. Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes $34.2 million to fund 50 Centers of Excellence across the commonwealth to treat more than 11,250 Pennsylvanians with opioid use disorder. These centers coordinate care for people with Medicaid. Rather than just treating the addiction, we’re treating the entire person through team-based treatment, with the explicit goal of integrating behavioral health and primary care.

A common misconception about the Centers of Excellence is that they are physical locations where people can walk in and receive treatment. In reality, when we use the term “center” we are referring to a central, efficient hub around which treatment revolves. These centers will have navigators to assist people with opioid-related substance use disorders though the medical system, and ensure they receive behavioral and physical health care, as well as any evidence-based medications medication-assisted treatment needed.

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The use of medication (like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone), coupled with wrap-around supportive services, can prevent people from relapsing and improve their chances for recovery, ultimately driving the aforementioned statistics in the right direction.

Since opioids are so powerful, those who try to recover need different types of help in order to beat the disease. In fact, this approach has gained huge momentum as the most modern and successful way to help lighten the load of addiction recovery, especially from opioids. The intense cravings, detoxification, and withdrawal symptoms involved in quitting make addiction difficult to overcome. As our strategy involves both behavioral therapy and FDA approved medication that individuals take to help curb cravings, it can improve the odds of recovery.

Applications for participation in the Centers of Excellence were due last month and interest was overwhelming; we received 116 applications from providers in 45 counties. Pending approval in the budget, we will select 50 of those applicants to move forward with implementation.

We must do more for our children, family, friends, and neighbors. Treating underlying causes gives people the best chance they have to beat their addiction. Please visit our website at dhs.pa.gov for more information on the centers.

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