California Awarded $230 Funding for Overdose and SUD Treatment

SAMHSA and DHCS grants fuel state programs designed to connect patients to long-term care

By Jason Langendorf

California will receive $210 million over the next two years as part of the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant program, announced the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in August.

These federal funds will help bolster the state’s recent efforts to address a growing substance use disorder (SUD) and overdose crisis.

We have to help the doctors. We really come in and fill in those gaps and help them understand the disease.”—Marlies Perez, chief, California Department of Health Care Services Community Services Division

SAMHSA’s funding come on the heels of an announcement from the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) of its grant of $20 million in funding for 212 state hospitals to aid in opioid and substance treatment as part of California’s Behavioral Health Pilot Project (BHPP). That grant represents a re-appropriation in the state’s Budget Act of 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a delay in 2019 funding of the BHPP project.

“Basically, what this California funding has done is to rapidly expand something that we’ve already seen work at a smaller scale,” says DHCS Community Services Division Chief Marlies Perez.

The Behavioral Health Pilot Project is modeled after CA Bridge, a successful initiative already contracting more than 50 hospitals across California in combining medication for addiction medically assisted treatment (MAT), active outpatient support, and a welcoming culture of care. BHPP is funded to provide roughly two-thirds of the state’s hospitals with the resources required to hire and train substance use navigators, whose role will be connecting at-risk hospital patients (frequently overdose victims) with immediate and specialized SUD outpatient treatment.

“It’s not just money that goes out and the hospital has to figure it out,” says Perez. “We have this really great curriculum, structure and learning collaboratives. And whatever amount of technical assistance that they need, they’ll be able to get through the federal portion of the funding.”

Perez says CA Bridge, and now BHPP, is designed to 1) train hospital staff to treat SUD as a disease rather than a moral failing and 2) stabilize overdose patients under MAT protocols. A participating hospital’s substance use navigator would then step in to offer support and connect the patient to appropriate long-term treatment—including helping assess potential comorbidities such as depression.

According to the DHCS, California has distributed more than 400,000 units of naloxone resulting in 12,000 overdose reversals across the state since October 2018. More than 25,000 new patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) have received medication for addiction treatment under DHCS’ California MAT Expansion project.

Perez says it’s an important change for patients “to have a doctor come in and be on their side instead of saying, ‘You’re a problem, I want you out of my emergency department.’

“Because while the navigator is what we like to call the secret sauce, we have to help the doctors. We really come in and fill in those gaps and help them understand the disease.”

Photo: Julian Myles