- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Announces $1.5 Million Grant Program to Promote Racial Justice and Equity in Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder
Boston — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate racial disparities in our health care system, Attorney General Maura Healey has announced a new grant program that aims to promote equity among treatment programs for opioid use disorder in Massachusetts.
The $1.5 million grant program – Promoting Cultural Humility in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment – is funded by a recent settlement that the AG’s Office reached with Injured Workers Pharmacy for unlawful and dangerous prescription drug dispensing practices. The grant program will support recovery programs committed to standards that serve Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in Massachusetts. Priority will be given to organizations based in the communities they serve.
“It’s important that we remove barriers to treatment that have systemically and disproportionately harmed communities of color – especially during this pandemic where accessing critical behavioral health care services is needed more than ever before,” said AG Healey. “We look forward to this grant program providing opportunities for innovative solutions that will promote recovery in racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse communities.”
Systemic issues, including health care provider biases, limited public health research, and inadequate news coverage have mischaracterized the opioid epidemic as chiefly impacting white suburban and rural communities. However, communities of color are increasingly affected by opioid use disorder. According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, opioid-related overdose deaths increased for Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic communities between 2018 and 2019, while they decreased for white and other racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, between 2015 and 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths increased for people of color across the country, including a 100 percent increase for Black populations.
“Over the last several decades, Black people and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs compared to other communities. We’ve seen our loved ones and family members suffer higher incarceration and mortality rates with little to no treatment or rehabilitation alternatives available,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “In an effort to reimagine how we approach substance abuse for the betterment of our nation, this new grant program will promote equity among treatment options and realize the complexity of these issues within our communities.”
“For too long, our response to substance use has criminalized people of color, rather than providing them the care they need,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “We must ensure Black, brown, and Indigenous people struggling with opioid use have access to culturally-responsive healthcare and support they need to overcome this disease and thrive in recovery. I’m grateful to Attorney General Healey for her continued leadership in the fight to end our opioid crisis and affirm healthcare justice for all.”
“Addiction is impacting families across the Commonwealth and we have made strides to meet the treatment needs of all who need help; however, racial disparities and biases persist in both treatment and recovery services,” said Tanisha M. Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Branch. “All too often the attention around this health crisis has been disproportionately focused on the suburbs and rural communities, while those impacted in the urban core, faced with increases in opioid-related overdose deaths, have continued to struggle to access behavioral health care. For over three years the NAACP Boston has prioritized breaking down barriers in our health care system to increase access for Black, low income, and communities of color. This grant program will support our collective work across the Commonwealth to help ensure that all people have the access they need to the healthcare they deserve.”
“Community health centers have seen firsthand the toll the opioid crisis has taken on our communities of color,” said Michael Curry, Deputy CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. “This grant program will go far in supporting the work of community-based organizations that are focused on addressing the substance use and mental health needs of individuals who have been long ignored and subject to the trauma associated with structural racism.”
“COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated health inequities in communities of color,” said Jon Santiago, ER physician and state representative (Boston). “Now more than ever, we must double down on our commitment to address health inequity wherever it exists - including an opioid epidemic that continues to harm the Commonwealth. This grant program and the AG’s efforts are a bold step in the right direction.”
Because of treatment inequities and devastatingly high mortality rates among communities of color, recovery is not “one size fits all.” A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that Black and Latinx people have substantially lower access to behavioral health and substance-use treatment services and too often experience less culturally responsive care.
Examples of eligible services under the AG’s grant program are peer recovery coaching, abstinence, substance use counseling, and medication-assisted treatment. The grant program will prioritize innovative solutions and applications from treatment programs that demonstrate an understanding of providers’ biases and the barriers to care for diverse patients. On the ground, cultural humility in health care delivery is key to tackling provider biases.
Applicants can include municipalities, nonprofit organizations and quasi-public entities in Massachusetts that will be able to request up to $100,000 over a two-year period to supplement or create opioid use disorder treatment programs that incorporate cultural humility in Massachusetts. Interested applicants can visit the AG’s website for more information and for application instructions. Applications must be received by 7 p.m. on October 23, 2020.