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Oklahoma treats more than 1,400 for opioid addiction with federal grant

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City. Credit: Lindsay Whelchel, Oklahoma Watch
Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City. Credit: Lindsay Whelchel, Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma City — Oklahoma has used federal grant money to speed up drug approvals to treat more than 1,400 people addicted to opioids.

The state has received about $4.4 million in grants for opioid-related needs from the 21st Century Cures Act, and is expected to receive about $2.9 million more. Nearly three-quarters of that money will go toward paying for treatment for people who can't afford it, though some will be left over for prevention programs and support services for people in recovery.

Oklahoma put a higher percentage of its money into treatment services than most states, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, deputy commissioner for treatment and recovery services at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“Part of that was that we were in great need of treatment dollars,” she said.

Six Oklahoma County organizations received some of the money, which was spread across 59 counties.

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, one of the bigger recipients, said patients come from all over the state to get a prescription for medication-assisted treatment at Red Rock's Oklahoma City location.

Treatment with medication has been shown to cut death rates from overdoses and the spread of diseases such as HIV from sharing needles, said Beth Connolly, director of substance use prevention and treatment at the Pew Charitable Trust.

Ideally, patients should be able to choose among the three options approved by the Food and Drug Administration, she said. Those are the opioids methadone and buprenorphine, and naltrexone, a shot to block the effect of opioids.

“Some medications are better for some people than others,” she said.

Wana Ellison, chief operating officer for outpatient services at Red Rock, said patients typically get a prescription for buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone. Each patient also meets with a case manager, therapist and recovery support specialist, she said.

“The Suboxone can really help with the cravings and the obsessions, but the therapy helps them” with coping skills, she said.

Most people with opioid addictions can get the help they need through medication and outpatient treatment, Slatton-Hodges said. The grant funding has allowed the state to help more of those patients, though it hasn't solved the problem of a shortage of inpatient beds for people who need them, she said.

“You cannot ask someone to build new beds with time-limited funding,” she said.

Foust said the grant allows Red Rock to serve more people who don't have insurance, but she hopes the federal government will continue investing in treatment.

“The opioid epidemic is far, far from over,” she said.

Oklahoma’s opioid grant spending


Administration: $354,000

Prevention: $1.2 million

Recovery: $235,000

Treatment: $2.6 million

Total: $4.4 million


Still available

Administration: $10,000

Prevention: $200,000

Recovery: $0

Treatment: $2.7 million

Total: $2.9 million

Source: Associated Press

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›