Magazine article Policy & Practice

Partnering in Times of Crisis

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Partnering in Times of Crisis

Article excerpt

In a bold move, widely noted and praised, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire 2014 state of the state address to the epidemic of heroin and other opiate abuse in his state. Citing a crisis of a "rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crimes spreading across Vermont," he called for a comprehensive, coordinated attack, involving government, communities, providers, and law enforcement.

Shumlin asked Vermonters to view opiate addiction as a public health issue. "We must do for this disease what we do for cancer, diabetes, heart, and other chronic illness: first, aim for prevention, and then eradicate any disease that develops with aggressive treatment."

Vermont then embarked on an integrated response that included treatment, prevention, and reforms in the criminal justice approach to addicted offenders.

With a push from the governor, Vermont's Agency of Human Services completed its statewide rollout of the Care Alliance for Opioid Addiction, better known as the "Hub and Spoke" system. Hub and Spoke integrated two previously unconnected addiction treatment programs. The agency's Department of Health was running methadone clinics across the state. The Department of Vermont Health Access, responsible for Medicaid programs, provided funding for buprenorphine prescriptions. Today, the programs and funding streams are combined in Hub and Spoke.

Taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act's Health Home Provision, Vermont won approval of a State Plan Amendment for 90/10 funding to develop regional "hubs" for assessment, specialty treatment (methadone, when appropriate), and referrals to other services. The hubs are responsible for coordinating the care of individuals with complex addictions and co-occurring mental health issues. Hubs are variously run by traditional nonprofit substance abuse treatment providers, hospitals, and some for-profit enterprises.

The so-called spokes in the system begin with referrals to medical homes, established under Vermont's Blueprint for Health, which is designed for coordinated treatment of chronic diseases. Other spoke services include outpatient substance abuse treatment, primary care providers, federally qualified health care centers, private psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, and job counselors.

The model, so far unique in the nation, is a holistic, integrated approach to the treatment of the underlying causes of an individual's addiction as well as its symptoms. Vermont's program was recently recognized by the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

Early results are encouraging. According to Barbara Cimaglio, the state's deputy commissioner for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, Vermont has seen a "dramatic increase" in access to treatment.

"The commitment to support access is clear and demonstrable," Cimaglio said.

The number of individuals receiving treatment has doubled since 2012. While it is still too early to quantify savings, Cimaglio points to reductions in emergency room visits and lower Medicaid costs for those served, as well as improved quality of care.

Vermont's General Assembly also responded to the governor's challenge. Legislation passed in 2014 established and funded pretrial services for those charged with a crime related to their drug addiction. …

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