The Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) announced on Thursday that it is providing grants to six organizations to fund initiatives to respond to the increased risks faced by individuals with opioid use disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grants for Ballad Health and Addiction Policy Forum will be used to facilitate recovery support services. RAND Corporation and Rutgers University are receiving funding to support analysis of the impact of temporary emergency policy changes to inform longer-term care improvements. The Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (IAFCC) and the University of North Carolina Health Sciences at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) will receive funds to support treatment and training services.
“We’re looking at one crisis on top of another since evidence suggests that many of the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic are already leading to a rise in opioid overdoses and deaths,” Andrea Barthwell, MD, chair of FORE’s board of directors, said in a news release. “These grants to leading organizations on the frontlines of the opioid crisis are aimed at breaking through many of the COVID-19 imposed barriers by providing solutions that make it easier to connect those seeking care to evidence-based recovery services.”
Ballad Health is working to reduce barriers to OUD recovery created by the pandemic through its PEERhelp program, which provides virtual recovery resources through a phone line in 21 counties in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia. The line is staffed by certified peer recovery support specialists. Funds from FORE will be used to make the call line available 24/7 and increase weekly virtual recovery meetings.
Meanwhile, patients in drug courts and other criminal justice diversion programs will be provided access to Addiction Policy Forum’s Connections App, a smartphone application for patients in recovery that is designed to reduce relapse and promote pro-social engagement. The app, created in partnership with CHESS Health, links patients to counselors and peers, conducts daily check-ins, tracks sobriety, and provides access to clinical support and other resources.
Assessing new services amid COVID-19
RAND is using its grant to conduct a national study to assess telemedicine programs implemented at OTPs in response to the pandemic. The goal of the study is to help guide policy decisions around OUD treatment and care delivery beyond the current COVID-19 crisis.
Rutgers’ project will assess the impact of Medicaid policy changes in New Jersey on access to OUD treatment, specifically evaluating temporary regulatory and policy changes enacted during the pandemic.
IAFCC and the University of North Carolina’s MAHEC, which received funds to work on projects that improve access to care prior to the pandemic, will use their additional funds continue the work within the constraints created by COVID-19. IAFCC also is implementing telehealth services at free clinics involved with developing MOUD programs, and UNC-MAHEC is using its new funds to enhance engagement with community health centers across the state in MOUD education and provider training.