New law helps funding for substance abuse

montana governor steve bullock

Bill will increase access to substance abuse treatment in Montana

Montana Living — Governor Steve Bullock today signed into law a bill that will significantly increase access to substance abuse treatment in Montana.
The Behavioral Health Access Act (HB 95), sponsored by Rep. Gordon Pierson (D-Deer Lodge), removes a 40-year-old statute that arbitrarily limits Department of Public Health and Human Services in approving one service provider per area, which limits Montanans’ access to treatment, and forces clients to wait for openings in existing programs.
“Access to substance abuse treatment is critical in helping connect people to treatment as early as possible,” Bullock said. “This change in the law will increase the opportunity for thousands of Montanans to receive care in their communities when they need it most.”
Rep. Pierson carried the bill after learning about the high need of substance abuse treatment in Montana. In Montana, about 80,000 Montanans suffer from chemical dependency, but on average only 10,000 actually receive treatment. “That’s a big gap that needs to be addressed,” Pierson said. “I believe this overdue change in the law is a major step in the right direction.”
Montana Addictive and Mental Disorders Division Administrator Zoe Barnard said increased access to care will have a ripple effect over time. She said the treatment outcomes are much improved if people can access care before their situation becomes even more serious. She also pointed to the cost of outpatient treatment as much less expensive as opposed to inpatient treatment or being treated in the emergency room for a substance abuse-related health crisis. 
Barnard noted Montana’s substance abuse treatment needs are also linked to suicide. Of the analyzed suicides between January 2014 and March 2016 with a toxicology screen completed, nearly 50 percent of the individuals had alcohol, psychotropic drugs, or opioids in the system at the time of death. “We’re losing too many people to suicide in our state, and we believe this will help us address this critical issue,” Barnard said.  
The issue of substance abuse treatment has also been identified at the local level. In a recent survey, 24 out of 31 Montana counties between 2012 -2014 identified their ‘top health concern for their community’ as alcohol abuse or substance abuse.  All 31 Montana counties surveyed had this issue in their top three health concerns.
“The economic stress on communities associated with substance abuse and misuse is alarming,” Barnard added. According to Montana hospital and emergency discharge data, from 2010 to 2014, there were $714 million in charges for substance abuse disorders related admission to a MT hospital or emergency department. This averages out to be nearly $143 million per year, with approximately $28 million per year charged to Medicaid. 
The new law will take effect on July 1, 2017. Becoming a state-approved provider agency requires an application process. This process can be initiated by contacting the Chemical Dependency Bureau Chief Bobbi Perkins at (406) 444-6981 or Jackie Jandt at (406) 444-9656. Information is also available online at
DPHHS anticipates that with the passage of HB 95, some existing treatment providers will expand their services and that additional providers will apply to be state approved, particularly in Montana’s larger communities and on Native American Reservations.


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