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Bill seeks funding for 15 physicians to treat addiction issues across state

Substance use disorder is a medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to control their use of drugs, alcohol, or medications.

Public data suggests about 21 million Americans suffer from it, but many of them don’t have access to treatment options for the lack of trained medical professionals across the country.

Dr. Sheila Specker, who directs the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Minnesota, said there are fewer than 2,000 specially trained physicians to care for addiction patients in the U.S. Only 1 in 10 people gets treated for their substance use disorder.

In Minnesota, the situation is not much different.

“There are over 30 rural counties that do not have a single provider that has obtained federal approval to prescribe certain medications for their treatment,” said Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park).

She sponsors HF3552 that seeks to alleviate the problem and strengthen the health care workforce by incentivizing specialists to train and stay in Minnesota.

The bill would appropriate $1.2 million for Hennepin County Medical Center to support three physicians per year enrolled in an addiction medicine fellowship program. The one-time appropriation would provide five years’ worth of funding, and train a total of 15 physicians.

Discussed by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday, the bill was held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Its companion, SF3424, sponsored by Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch) awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee.

The Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program provides training in the prevention, clinical evaluation, treatment, and ongoing care of persons with addiction using evidence-based therapies. Almost all program graduates serve in Minnesota, whether in academia and training physicians, or working with other providers to take care of addiction patients in underserved areas, Specker said.

Funding the program would mean helping people needing addiction care in the state, she said.

Dr. Brian Grahan is a program graduate who works with the Integrated Opioid and Addiction Care ECHO Team.

The interdisciplinary team of doctors have educated permanent care providers in rural Minnesota how to better manage complex patient populations in their own communities while developing additional knowledge and experience, Grahan said.

Sharing knowledge helps care for patients, including those with substance use disorders, he said. But more physicians with addiction training are needed.

Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) asked if national opioid settlement funds could be used for the fellowship program, instead of money from the state’s General Fund.

That money already is earmarked for other purposes, Specker said.

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