Officials: Fund reductions hurting addiction treatment

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Substance abuse treatment providers in Arkansas have been laying off employees and turning away some patients since the state slashed federal subsidies, and officials warn this could lead to more homelessness, kids in the foster system and children born as addicts.

The state’s annual substance abuse block grant was reduced from more than $13 million to just under $8 million for the fiscal year ending June 30. Much of the grant — with matching state subsidies — is allotted to eight treatment providers in Arkansas, which then subcontract to other providers.

One subcontractor is Arkansas CARES, which stands for the Center for Addictions Research, Education and Services. The 120-day residential treatment program assists pregnant women and mothers with mental illness who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and it can treat up to 10 women at its Little Rock campus.

As of Friday, there were just three women there, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Arkansas CARES noted that 41 other women were on a waiting list for treatment but that they wouldn’t get in until more funds become available. The report did not explain why the funding has been cut.

“To be honest, they’ll die,” said Kate Hardage, administrator of Methodist Children’s Home, which runs Arkansas CARES. “They will continue to use. You will have a higher rate of babies being born addicted, which (state Drug Director) Kirk Lane talks a lot about, and that’s just increasing daily. You’ll have an increase in homelessness. You’ll have more kids in foster care.”

Marci Manley, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said seven of the eight addiction treatment providers were on pace to run out of money by the end of June. She didn’t respond to emailed questions about how much money will be made available in the coming fiscal year.

The providers have received other money from federal grants to treat people with opioid addictions, but that money cannot be used to treat abuse of other substances.

“In the state of Arkansas, our biggest problem is still alcohol and methamphetamine, and there’s no money for that,” said Jimmie Wooding, director of Harbor House in Fort Smith.

Better Community Development’s Hoover Treatment Center in Little Rock, whose block grant funding was exhausted in January, has filled just nine of its 24 beds for residential treatment, said Deborah Bell, Better Community Development’s director of programs. Bell’s organization has 53 more people waiting for treatment.

“Right now we have people who, when they call, we have to say, if they don’t have any money, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t provide the service for you,’” she said.

The Hoover center is among those that have had to cut staff. Bell said its three-person kitchen staff and two support employees were laid off, and the hours of counselors and case managers have been cut from full-time to 20 hours a week.

“We’ve been operating on pretty much a skeleton staff,” Bell said.

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