COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s addiction services agency is providing communities more money to tailor substance abuse programs to what they're confronting most, from underage drinking to the opioid crisis, officials told legislators Tuesday.
Beginning next year, each of the 32 local branches of the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services will receive at least $20,000 more for programs aimed at addiction prevention and intervention.
That could mean hiring a new counselor or boosting after-school programs, Michelle Nienhius, the agency’s director of prevention and intervention, told a House Oversight subcommittee.
The department receives about $24 million a year from the federal government and must use about $5 million on primary prevention initiatives, such as health fairs, public awareness campaigns, and checkpoints to catch drunken drivers.
Since 2014, each of the 32 branches has received at least $40,000 annually for those efforts.
That will jump to at least $60,000 next year. The eight local agencies that serve more than one county will get at least $75,000. The most populous counties could receive more than $200,000.
“Because prevention significantly reduces behavioral health problems and saves us millions of dollars every year, it is one of our nation’s most valuable and under-used resources,” Nienhius said.
Last year, the state’s addiction treatment providers helped more than 32,000 people, far below the estimated 451,000 residents in need of immediate intervention and treatment, according to the department’s latest accountability report. Officials cite several reasons behind the gap, including a lack of money and people not seeking help.
Officials already have plans for the money.
The agency for Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties plans to use the additional money to hire more people, said Mike Dennis, executive director of the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
“Having three rural counties is difficult to cover with one prevention staff person. ... To get from one end of Bamberg County to the far end of Orangeburg County could take up to 1½ hours,” Dennis said. “Unlike treatment services where we can bill a client’s insurance, Medicaid or the client themselves, prevention services cannot be billed, and so having adequate funding to cover those services is critical.”
A 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General put addiction in the same category as other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. Treating substance abuse costs the country about $700 million annually.