North Dakota's Voucher Program For Addiction Treatment Is Off To a Rocky Start

By Dorri Olds 09/09/16

The treatment program aims to provide residents access to addiction treatment facilities that are close to where they live. 

North Dakota's Voucher Program For Addiction Treatment Is Off To a Rocky Start

North Dakota recently launched a state-funded voucher program to treat addiction. The state voucher program was put into place on July 1, but currently only three providers have applied to take part: the Heartview Foundation in Bismarck, Sharehouse in Fargo, and one in Grand Forks which has yet to be approved.

“We certainly are hoping that providers will sign up and that individuals will access this voucher, so that they can get timely access to services,” Pam Sagness, director of the ND Behavioral Health Division, told Inforum.

The hope is that when residents are given access to a facility close to where they live, they’ll be more likely to stick with it long enough to get back on their feet. According to the American Psychological Association, one of the obstacles to getting addicts to stay off drugs is keeping them in treatment long enough to do the work required to get better and stay clean.

The ND Legislature allotted $750,000 to fund the voucher program for one year, but recently, Gov. Jack Dalrymple made budget cuts, reducing the program's funding to $375,000.

A 2016 report by the ND Office of the Attorney General states that the number of drug cases submitted to the state crime laboratory increased by 26% from 2013 to 2015. During the same time period, drug cases involving heroin increased by more than 400%, according to the report. From 2012 to 2015, adults reporting methamphetamine use went from 21% to 39%. 

The state Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation reports that the number of inmates with drug or alcohol offenses has more than doubled in the past five years, from 334 in 2011 to 779 in 2015. And in that time, the number of drug offenders under parole or probation supervision also rose from 1,306 in 2011 to 2,507 in 2015.

The report goes on to state that in the past five years, heroin and meth related drug violations have "skyrocketed." Meth violations have more than quintupled, from 246 in 2010 to 1,633 in 2015. Heroin violations increased from four to 177, a 4,300% increase.

Sagness has been working toward a solution. “Effective prevention isn’t saying what substance it is and then telling people not to do it,” she said. “Effective prevention is changing the environment around youth and around young adults to make it less appealing to use substances in general.”

North Dakota was the first state in the U.S. to offer a year-round prescription drug “take-back” disposal program, according to the AG report. From December 2009 through the middle of 2015, the take-back program collected 9,497 pounds of unused medications.

No patients have received their vouchers yet, but Heartview and Sharehouse will begin accepting patients this week, Inforum reported. Officials are hoping that through the voucher program, patients won’t have to wait as they did with state-funded regional human service centers. 

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.