This week, the Louisiana Department of Health received over $24 million in grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat the opioid epidemic in the state of Louisiana.

The grants will allow the Department to scale up prevention and response activities, increase access to medication-assisted treatment and expand access to substance use disorder and mental health services.

With these grants, the Department will be able to reach more people in the state’s rural areas who may be struggling with opioid use disorder, said Dr. James Hussey, medical director for the Department’s Office of Behavioral Health.

“The opioid crisis gripping the nation is affecting all states and all groups of people. This grant funding will allow Louisiana to make significant inroads into tackling this epidemic head on to better the lives of our citizens,” Hussey said. “The Department is committed using these funds to advance best practice strategies to make progress to reduce the rate of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths.”

Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), $20 million of these awards will go toward increasing access to treatment and services.

Of that, $11.7 million will go toward improving access to treatment and reducing opioid overdose-related deaths through prevention strategies, more treatment options and programs that aid in addiction recovery. Another $8.9 million will enable 32 community health centers, academic institutions and rural organizations in the state to expand access to integrated substance use disorder and mental health services.

The $3.1 million in CDC funding will allow the Department to improve the timeliness and quality of surveillance data. This effort is critical to identify areas where there is a greater incidence of opioid use disorders. Louisiana has seen a steady increase in opioid-related deaths since 1999, and the number of deaths has more than doubled from 2011 to 2015. The CDC has stated that more than 1,000 people died from an overdose in Louisiana in 2016. This number surpasses the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents, homicides or suicides.

This funding supports the steps the state has already taken to address opioid use. Through changes to policy and approved legislation, Louisiana has limited the number of prescriptions to opioids, actions which have reduced the number of prescriptions by 2.08 percent and the number of total doses by 3 percent. The Department has also secured other grant dollars to enhance treatment and prevention programs.