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Millions in federal grants come to Maryland to curb opioid-related deaths

Centers in Maryland providing treatment to people with heroin and other opioid addictions will share in close to $9 million in federal grants aimed at reining in the still-raging epidemic.

The latest round of funding will go to community health centers, rural organizations and the University of Maryland. Officials said they expect the grants to boost the number of people on medication-assisted treatment, which includes treatment with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone that ease withdrawal symptoms and curb cravings.

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Such treatment is gaining acceptance as a method to treat people with opioid use disorders. U.S. health officials said nationally the number of people on medication-assisted treatment at federally funded health centers has increased 142 percent from 2016 to 2018.

“Health centers and behavioral health providers are on the front lines of the fight against the opioid crisis and substance abuse, especially in rural communities,” said Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in announcing the grants.

Fifteen centers in Maryland, including five in Baltimore, will share in $2.5 million aimed at increasing behavioral health services through the Integrated Behavioral Health Services Program. Nationally $200 million was awarded through this program.

Rural health centers in Maryland will share in $5 million through the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program. Nationally, $111 million was awarded through this program.

The University of Maryland will receive $1.3 million from the Opioid Workforce Expansion Program that supports training for behavioral health providers. Nationally, $70 million was awarded.

The opioid epidemic has been devastating in Maryland and across the country, with hundreds of thousands of fatal overdoses attributed to both prescription painkillers like oxycodone and street drugs such as heroin and the more powerful fentanyl.

Most deaths in the state are now linked to fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid largely produced in illicit labs in China, officials say. The number of deaths has been surging in recent years, with 577 deaths just from fentanyl in the first three months of 2019.

That was a 15 percent drop from a year earlier, the first decline in years, giving some officials hope that the epidemic may have peaked.

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