Salas Legislation to Help Address Opioid Crisis Heads to Governor

Monday, August 27, 2018

AB 2861 to reduce barriers to substance use disorder treatment passes legislature

SACRAMENTO – Today, the Assembly unanimously approved Assembly Bill (AB) 2861, which would increase access to substance use disorder treatment in underserved communities. Authored by Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), AB 2861 would allow Medi-Cal reimbursement for certified substance use disorder counselors that provide treatment via telehealth to those suffering from addiction.

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities and ruined the lives of too many families. For those seeking treatment, we need to ensure that they can access help when they need it most,” said Assemblymember Salas. “Telehealth is an innovative way to remove barriers for people seeking help in rural areas so that they can get treatment from specialists and get on the road to recovery.”

Telehealth is a term broadly used to describe an alternative, modern approach to the delivery of health care services utilizing communication and information technologies – such as live two-way interaction between a patient and a provider using audiovisual telecommunications technology – that can increase access to an array of health care services.

The rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs like fentanyl and heroin in the United States has reached epidemic levels. According to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdoses killed about 72,000 Americans last year, a record number that reflects a rise of about 10 percent and which is higher than yearly death totals from H.I.V, car crashes or gun deaths.[1] The opioid crisis combined with a shortage of behavioral health care providers – problems which notably tend to be especially acute in rural areas – have underscored the need to find ways to increase access to treatment and recovery.

“Individual counseling services provided by telehealth are an invaluable tool for increasing treatment capacity across the state at a time when drug overdose is a leading cause of accidental death,” said Tom Renfree, Interim Executive Director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association. “This bill will help to ensure timely access to substance use disorder treatment in all of our communities.”

In addition to the severe and growing shortage of behavioral health professionals in rural areas of the state, rural counties face a number of other barriers that make access to treatment particularly difficult, including fewer facilities, longer distances to those facilities, fewer public transportation options, and a lack of anonymity.

AB 2861 would help reduce these barriers in the most underserved communities by expanding substance use disorder treatment delivered via telehealth to all Californians. With support from health care providers, counties and mental health advocates, the legislation passed both houses with bipartisan support. The bill next moves to the governor’s desk for consideration.

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Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Avenal, Corcoran, Delano, Hanford, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch.