York County named location for opioid treatment center

Greg Gross

York County-based Pennsylvania Counseling Center was named one of 20 existing care providers statewide that will serve as opioid treatment centers in an effort to combat the heroin epidemic.

Called Centers of Excellence, the facilities will take a holistic approach to treating people on Medicaid who have an opioid-related addiction. Treatment includes addressing underlying causes of addiction as well as care for an addict's physical symptoms.

"This is a huge, important step in addressing treatment," said Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf. "But it's only a step. There's more to do."

Last year, 65 people died in York County from heroin-related overdoses, and so far this year there have been 17 confirmed heroin-related deaths. Statewide, more than 3,300 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose in 2015.

Pennsylvania Counseling Services has 17 clinics in seven counties, including three clinics in York County. One of its locations in Dauphin County also will  be a Center of Excellence.

It's not immediately clear which of the counseling service's York locations will be a Center of Excellence.

Centers across the state are slated to open by October.

Funding: Wolf, a Democrat from York County, secured $20 million in funding for the centers as part of this fiscal year's budget. Wolf had originally asked for $34 million to open 50 centers.

The recently approved budget included $10 million in behavioral health funding and $5 million in medical assistance funding. That allows the state Department of Human Services, which will administer the centers, to draw down $5.4 million in federal funding for an overall total of $20.4 million.

DHS received 116 applications from care providers, and each provider that was selected will receive about $500,000 to open a center, said Kait Gillies, spokeswoman for DHS.

Department officials are crunching numbers to see if additional centers can be opened in the near future. DHS will announce in mid-August if additional locations will be opened, Sheridan said.

Any additional centers would open in January, Gillis said.

About the centers: The Centers of Excellence will serve as the first stop where addicts will be helped to navigate the treatment system. They will go through team-based treatment that will integrate behavioral health and primary care and, when necessary, medication-assisted treatment. Examples of medicine that could be used include methadone and buprenorphine.

A report released late last year by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania on the state's heroin-addiction problem highlighted that medication-assisted treatment in conjunction with behavioral treatment has been successful and suggested the state further pursue that method. The group held a hearing in York about a year ago.

Pam Gay, the county coroner and a member of the county's Heroin Task Force, has been an advocate for the holistic approach to treating addicts. Some people have argued medicine-assisted treatment is just replacing one drug with another, but Gay said that treatment approach is a key element to helping someone get clean.

"I think we need to get out of that stigma," she said. "It needs to be a weaning process to get people off heroin."

The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs will license the centers as drug and alcohol providers that provide one of the three FDA-approved medications.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.