Be Well Texas, UT Health San Antonio’s substance use disorder response program, will use a $2 million federal grant to expand opioid use disorder treatment in rural Texas counties.
Many rural counties in Texas have opioid use rates that are two to three times higher than urban counties, according to data analyzed by the Washington Post. That’s coupled with what Bee Courtois says is a real lack of resources to handle opioid addiction.
Courtois is the program manager of Be Well Texas and the director of the grant project.
“Texas has had a significant issue with opioid use, and in particular rural counties,” she said. “And again, that just goes back to the issue of lack of resources in those rural communities.”
Courtois said Be Well Texas essentially acts as a funnel to get funds to opioid treatment efforts around Texas by partnering with local organizations. The funds for this grant will be devoted to the 178 federally-designated rural counties.
“This grant will allow us the opportunity to work on building a responsive behavioral health care delivery system with a focus on reducing the morbidity and mortality of opioid use disorder among rural Texas residents,” she said.
The grant will fund telehealth, in-person treatment, and recovery support services for those suffering from opioid use disorder.
Courtois said opioid use disorder is a growing problem in Texas, and especially rural counties, partly driven by the availability of heroin and the rise in the use of fentanyl — sometimes by accident.
“You, at times, have individuals that are not aware that something may be laced with fentanyl,” she said.
Recently, Gov. Greg Abbott signaled he supported decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips, which can be used to test drugs to see if they have fentanyl in them. He was previously against decriminalizing the test strips.
Courtois said one way Be Well Texas has tried to support those dealing with addiction is by providing housing.
“We recently set up some recovery housing for individuals with a substance use disorder who are in need of housing and are engaged in treatment,” she said.
This effort is focused on the 18 to 25 age group, which she says was identified as the age group most in need of this kind of support.
According to UT Health, Be Well Texas already supports 10,000 adults every year, but now they’ll be able to reach people who have struggled to access health care.
“The biggest challenge is access to care, transportation, and funding — these residents not having the financial means to access care,” Courtois said.
She said one method they’re using to remove that barrier is Be Well Texas’ telehealth clinic, which they can utilize to reach people who may not be able to take the time to drive to the nearest in-person clinic.
Courtois added that destigmatizing opioid use disorder would be a major step in tackling the crisis.
“It is a chronic disease, similar to high blood pressure [or] diabetes, however, it is not seen in the same light,” she said. “And because there is so much stigma and bias, it compounds the challenge for individuals that are dealing with this to seek help because of fear of that very stigma.”
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