In North Dakota, treatment programs are scarce, and clients who need the most help may be scattered throughout the state. Many people in the state need financial assistance so they can go to treatment. A state fund was making that treatment gap close, but it suddenly ran out, and it’s not clear if it will be renewed, according to Inforum.

The Substance Use Disorder Voucher Program

The money that usually takes care of treatment for the indigent in North Dakota is called the substance use disorder voucher program. Since 2016, the program has helped 4,200 people get drug treatment and try to start a new sober life.

The funding freeze on new clients could cause thousands of people to lose access to drug and alcohol treatment.

Before the voucher program, many people were lost through the cracks because of barriers to healthcare. Because the opioid epidemic has taken such a toll, especially in Native communities, in North Dakota, people were put on a waitlist for services. Public health officials had a huge backlog, but they did their job and hoped the best. For many people, the waitlist may have been well over a year.

Addicted people tend to be pretty transient, and a year is a long waiting period when trying to get sober. They may duck treatment when the opportunity comes up. Others may have already overdosed or are no longer “ready” when they get a callback.

Advocates say the program’s abrupt end is putting lives at stake.  “They’re going to end up in our jails and emergency rooms — or they’re going to die,” Tonya Sorenson, a licensed addiction counselor and clinical supervisor at First Step Recovery in Fargo, told the media.

North Dakota’s Voucher System Worked

The voucher system allowed people to go to private treatment centers all over the state, giving people access to healthcare that may be out of reach at state facilities.

“They were required to stand in long lines in human service centers around the state,” said Kurt Snyder, executive director of Heartview Foundation. “The beauty of the voucher system is it allows the private providers to open their doors to all comers. It made a real difference for a lot of people.”

As long as people required drug or alcohol treatment because it was deemed “medically necessary,” they were able to apply to the voucher system program.

What’s Next?

COVID-19 is widening healthcare inequalities across the country, including in North Dakota. Many industries are suffering, and it seems that the department of health wasn’t able to get access to the funding for the state, even though the budget was requested.

Nationally, in 2020, there is a trend of high overdose rates. Opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and marijuana addictions are at all-time highs right now. And like many consequences of the pandemic, it seems the government can’t afford to help tackle it.