By Shannon Young
A bipartisan effort to encourage more people to enter jobs in the substance abuse treatment field cleared the U.S. House this week, as lawmakers considered a series of bills aimed at addressing issues related to the opioid epidemic.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, who sponsored the legislation with Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, praised lawmakers for unanimously approving the measure that seeks to offer student loan repayment benefits to those who agree to work in addiction treatment jobs in high-need areas.
"Congress took a major step forward in our fight to combat the opioid crisis," she said in a statement. "Every new treatment professional we invest in could mean survival for someone's child, parent, sibling or friend, who may not have had access to treatment otherwise."
Clark added that the bill, which responds to workforce concerns raised by treatment providers across Massachusetts, "provides the support needed" for communities to better respond to the opioid crisis.
Linda Rosenberg, the National Council for Behavioral Health president and CEO, also lauded House lawmakers for endorsing the legislation, arguing that it will encourage more students to pursue addiction treatment careers, thus cutting down on waiting lists and delays that have resulted from current shortages.
"By creating a dedicated fund to pay for loan forgiveness for substance use disorder professionals, it creates a program to help addiction treatment professionals repay student loans, adds incentives for students to pursue these professions, and ultimately increases timely access to treatment for individuals living with addiction," she said in a statement.
Council on Social Work Education President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey added that "federal support for education and training programs is critical to ensuring that the U.S. has the proper supply of health professionals to meet growing demands."
Specifically, the bill, known as the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, would allow eligible participants to seek repayment up to $250,000.
To qualify for such repayments, individuals must agree to work in full-time substance use disorder treatment jobs in high-need areas for up to six years. Eligible positions include direct patient care roles such as physicians, registered nurses, social workers and recovery coaches, among others.
The legislation, which is one of thirty opioid-related bills to go before the House, now moves to the U.S. Senate.
Several groups have come out in support of the legislation, including: the American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees, American Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the Addiction Policy Forum and the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose, among others.
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that about 10 percent of Americans with substance use disorders receive treatment. Experts have attributed that low percentage, in part, to the lack of providers.
Despite a 2014 federal push to grow the behavioral health workforce, that gap is expected to grow in the coming years, with SAMHSA projecting significant shortages of psychiatrists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and substance abuse social workers by 2025.
Original story here.