Health dept. to offer student loan relief for those who treat opioid use

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will offer student loan relief to medical professionals who treat opioid use disorder, the department announced.

Doctors and other medical professionals "in a broad range of settings" could be eligible for a repayment between $15,000 and $30,000 if they begin offering medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or take on more patients. 

Those operating in counties without MAT programs can receive an additional $5,000 bonus.

In a statement, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for the department, called medication-assisted treatment the "gold standard" for treating opioid use disorder, adding that "increasing capacity to provide this treatment will help more individuals recover and thrive."

In addition to medical and osteopathic doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and substance use disorder counselors trained to offer buprenorphine are eligible.

The state considers the loan repayments, now in their second cycle of a "multifaceted plan" to address the opioid epidemic, which killed more than 10,000 people in Michigan between 2008 and 2017.

Roughly 1,000 more people died from opioid overdoses in that time than died in car crashes.

Medication-assisted therapy offers patients therapy and peer support. Opioid users and people addicted to alcohol can also receive shots of Vivitrol, which competes for the brain receptors opioids attach to, preventing someone who has taken the shot from feeling intoxicated, for about a month.

For jails and prisons in Michigan, Vivitrol is provided for free by its maker, Alkermes. In addition to the 214 people who received Vivitrol shots during the Michigan Department of Corrections' pilot program, 179 others were referred to MAT programs via county jails, according to the health department.

In a state that lost 2,052 people to opioid overdoses in 2017, that's almost 400 people who enrolled in MAT over the last year in corrections settings.

The health department says some 65 providers received partial repayments during the first round, which was done in partnership with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. This round is paid for with federal funds from the State Targeted Response for Opioid Crisis grant program, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.