State offers student loan repayment for opioid treatment specialists
Healthcare practitioners who treat opioid addiction in 30 highly affected Western Pennsylvania counties — including Allegheny and Westmoreland — may be eligible for student loan aid under a new $5 million program designed to boost treatment options in the region.
Those eligible to participate in the new program through the Pennsylvania Department of Health include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed social workers and drug and alcohol counselors.
But there’s a string attached: Participants must agree to practice full-time or half-time at an approved practice site or sites from Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2021.
“It’s imperative that everyone suffering from the disease of addiction is receiving quality care where they can access it, in their communities. By removing some of the burden of debt for medical training, we are incentivizing these professionals to practice where they are most needed,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health will accept applications for loan repayment aid now through June 3.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, opioids were a factor in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017. The highest overdose death rates were in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and the District of Columbia.
“The opioid crisis is the largest public health crisis in decades, and we continue to need more professionals who can assist in addressing this crisis,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, state Secretary of Health. “This funding helps us ensure that those affected by the crisis living in both underserved areas and areas hit particularly hard have access to primary medical and behavioral health care services to treat their disorder.”
The federal government is underwriting the student loan repayment program in states still struggling with the impact of opioid addiction through a $55.9 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant designed to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, reduce opioid overdose related deaths through prevention, treatment and recovery, and to reduce unmet needs for treatment.
When overdose deaths declined last year in Western Pennsylvania, experts speculated that growing awareness and the establishment of a treatment infrastructure may have played a role.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .