The Prescription Opioid Impact Fee scholarship program was supposed to be a way to quickly and easily provide people recovering from addiction the money they needed for essential resources.
The funds, provided under court order by providers involved in the over-prescription of opioids, have helped Delawareans in need pay for transportation, food, health care, child support and, perhaps most importantly, housing.
But on April 28, the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health announced that the scholarship program they oversee will be coming to a halt.
And while DSAMH Director Joanna Champney said the division will be applying for more funding in the hopes of restarting the program at the beginning of the fiscal year in July, it would still leave the hundreds who rely on it without money to put a roof over their head for at least two months.
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The issue of scholarship funding was brought to the forefront of the Prescription Opioid Settlement Distribution Commission’s quarterly meeting three days after the announcement.
Dave Humes, a member of the commission and public policy coordinator for local nonprofit atTAcK Addiction, said he began receiving panicked calls from people who previously relied on the scholarship almost as soon as DSAMH closed applications.
“We need to correct this,” he said. “Housing alone is just an incredible piece of helping people stay healthy and stay alive.”
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Of the 3,394 scholarships awarded by the Opioid Impact Fee since the program began in March 2021, DSAMH said the majority of recipients used the funds — which totaled over $2.6 million — to pay for housing.
The flexibility of the scholarships — as well as the immediacy of them — is what made them a great “low barrier” resource for the community, Champney said. However, these same assets disqualify the program from federal grant funding, forcing DSAMH to wait to apply for a different grant next month.
Until then, Champney said people with substance use disorder would need to go back to relying on more traditional assistance, whether through non-opioid-specific state-sponsored benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or other DSAMH programs.
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But qualifying for that help — and getting through potentially complicated screenings and paperwork — takes time and effort. And those are two resources that not everyone has, especially in the early stages of recovery.
“When people are in need, that immediate need has to be met somehow,” said atTAcK Addiction board member Jill Fredel.
Fredel said atTAcK Addiction decided to use its own funds to create its own housing scholarships fund to fill in the gaps in assistance. People recovering from addiction can now receive about two months’ rent to cover their stays at recovery homes — a sort of “bridge” until larger state-funded scholarships are able to get more money and resume operations.
Humes said it’s possible that other organizations are providing their own versions of scholarships, too, and said that he wished DSAMH had given more of a heads-up about the funds running out so that a community response could be better coordinated.
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Champney said that advanced notice of the pause in the scholarship program “was unfortunately not possible due to the uncertain picture of when additional funding would be available.”
She said DSAMH previously expected the funding would last through the end of this fiscal year, and the reality that “the awareness and success of the program created more demands than the available funds” only “became apparent” in April.
State sends help from Behavioral Health Consortium
A month after the scholarship program was put on pause, a state-sponsored solution will finally be on its way.
The state’s Behavioral Health Consortium, chaired by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, has pledged $100,000 to fund an adapted version of the Opioid Impact Fee scholarships for the month of June.
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Unlike the previous iteration, these funds can be used only on housing — more specifically, emergency hotel placement of up to seven nights or the security deposit and one month’s rent at an Oxford House or “privately obtained” housing, according to DSAMH.
Anyone over 18 who has been diagnosed with substance use disorder, overdosed in the last year or used intravenous drugs can apply starting May 30.
“We don’t want anyone not to have a roof over their head and the services that they need to get complete recovery,” Hall-Long said. “Having complete wraparound services for a person in recovery is critical.”
How to find help
Delaware Hope Line: 833-9-HOPEDE for free 24/7 counseling, coaching and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction and crisis services. Resources can also be found on the Help is Here website.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988
SAMHSA National Helpline: 800-662-HELP (4357) for free 24/7 substance abuse disorder treatment referral services. Treatment service locators are also available online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or via text message by sending your ZIP code to 435748.
Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at email@example.com. For more reporting, follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman.