Public hearing held Friday for proposed opioid treatment program site

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Northwest Integrated Health, an operator of three state-licensed behavioral health programs in Pierce County, is proposing plans for a new substance-use disorder treatment program located at 3727 South Tacoma Way that would specifically improve access to essential health care for people dependent on opioids, such as heroin and OxyContin.

NIH is applying for certification with Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery for its proposed treatment program. As a requirement of RCW 71.24.590, DSHS is providing a public hearing on the proposal in order to receive comments. The public hearing will be held from 6:30-7:30 p.m. March 30 at the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, 4851 South Tacoma Way in Tacoma. Sign-in begins at 6 p.m.

“The overall goal of the public hearing is to allow the community to provide comments, questions and concerns to the state of Washington, which then the (opioid treatment program) will need to respond to in writing with a plan on how they will mitigate any concerns which the community has raised,” said Jessica Blose, Washington state opioid treatment authority with DBHR.

Blose said NIH is a Washington state-licensed behavioral health agency that currently offers a full continuum of behavioral care options, including substance-use disorder counseling, mental health counseling services, medication-assisted therapies, and case-management services. NIH plans to offer these same services at the proposed opioid treatment program site in Tacoma.

According to Dennis Malmer, the deputy director at DBHR, there are 25 opioid programs licensed by the state. The proposed South Tacoma Way site would bring that number up to 26. All programs are serving at full capacity, which averages about 500 individuals per site, with some outliers serving less than 500 and some serving 1,000.

In Washington, the need for more OTPs is high.

“We’re expecting more applications later this year,” Malmer said.

Blose said it’s hard to quantify how many people in Pierce County are afflicted with opioid-use disorder. Multiple agencies record the information.

“A good rule of thumb is that about 1-2 percent of the overall population anywhere in America could have opioid-use disorder,” Blose said. “Part of the application process in the past for opioid treatment was a requirement in RCW to demonstrate a need, and that was removed by the (state) legislature because there is a demonstrated need everywhere.”

Blose said she would like the public to be educated about three facts as they relate to Northwest Integrated Health’s proposal.

“OTPs are providing regulated and evidenced-based behavioral health care treatment to individuals with opioid-use disorder,” she said. “OTPs are a healthcare facility like any other doctor’s office and are treated to parallel regulations as such. Northwest Integrated Health is currently a licensed-behavioral health agency in good standing with DBHR at its other locations in Pierce County.”

Any individual unable to attend the public hearing but would like to have their feedback recorded officially, can provide their comments, questions, or concerns to Blose via Kelly Stowe at kelly.stowe@dshs.wa.gov or by calling (360) 902-7739.

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