WASHINGTON — A day after a nearly unanimous U.S. Senate approved a package of measures addressing opioid abuse, the Obama administration on Friday released $94 million in funding for treatment centers nationwide, including $1.8 million for Pennsylvania.
However, none of that funding is headed to the Pittsburgh region, where heroin-related deaths have been skyrocketing.
In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County is second to Philadelphia in the number of heroin overdoses, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Some 217 people in the county died after using heroin last year, up from 157 the previous year, according to OverdoseFreePA, a coalition of Pennsylvania communities and organizations advocating for addiction recovery and prevention of drug abuse. In Westmoreland County, 56 people died of heroin overdoses last year, up from 36 the year before.
The funding announced Friday is headed to Berks Community Health Center in Reading, Community Health and Dental Care in Pottstown, Family First Health Corp. in York, Keystone Rural Health Center in Chambersburg, and Public Health Management Corp. in Philadelphia. Each will get between $325,000 and $380,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS spokesman Jonathan Gold said funding awards were made on a competitive basis and that all 1,300 health centers nationwide were encouraged to apply. He declined to say whether any health centers in southwestern Pennsylvania applied.
Mr. Gold pointed out that Pittsburgh already has several treatment centers that receive federal funding.
“Health centers treat some of the most at-risk patients in the country,” said Jim Macrae, acting administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. “These awards position health centers to be at the forefront of the fight against opioid abuse in underserved communities.”
The new funding will allow each recipient treatment center to hire one additional provider to identify and treat addiction. The additional doctors will be able to see 124,000 more patients nationwide in addition to the 23 million already treated at community health centers, HHS leaders told reporters Friday.
The opioid epidemic is one of the country’s most pressing public health issues, said HHS Regional Director Joanne Grossi.
The new funding is unrelated to a bill the Senate passed Thursday that — if the House agrees — would increase first responders’ access to naloxone, add disposal sites for people to drop off unwanted medications, strengthen drug monitoring programs, focus resources on identifying and treating drug addiction in prison inmates, create an addiction intervention program, and limit Medicare recipients to one doctor and one pharmacy for narcotic prescriptions.
HHS leaders on Friday declined to comment on the Senate bill, which disappointed some Democrats because it failed to incorporate $600 million in emergency funding to address addiction and overdoses.
“We’re focused on the announcement that is going forward and the amount of people we are going to be able to serve,” Mr. Gold said Friday. “This is just one step of many towards treating this epidemic, and we imagine we will continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders.”
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.