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Help for Opioid Addicts in Rural Central Appalachia

What do you do when you live in a rural area, are broke, living more or less hand-to-mouth, have no job or one that causes constant pain and injury, don’t have health insurance or don’t think you do, are certain that life will never get better and you don’t have a clue what to do to make it so – if you even still think of that kind of thing – and you’re addicted to painkillers or heroin and there no drug rehab or other real help available? Unfortunately, this is the plight of many people in rural central Appalachia – Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. It’s a mess. But U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is trying to get you help – and right now he’s focusing on rural central Appalachia.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack – who was asked by Obama to lead an interagency team on opioid abuse – recently held a town hall meeting at Virginia Highlands Community College announcing his plans. He’ll be doing a series of meetings and forums around the country, but he’s starting in this area of the Appalachia because the opioid problems there are worse than anywhere, and they have the least help.

Although Vilsack’s plans include various ways to deliver healthcare to this region, telemedicine is a big part of it. With telemedicine, you don’t actually see a doctor in his office – you have video conferences and various other forms of electronic communication.

Some think it’s not the best way to go about things. And some see it as a brilliant new solution. Whatever your opinion, it’s not only vital for the people in this area, there are some who have done their doctor visits traditionally AND through telemedicine, and said the telemedicine visits were the best doctor visits they’ve ever had.

Vilsack announced five distance and learning telemedicine grants that amount to nearly $1.4 million to expand the service in six rural counseling centers.

Here’s a summary of what he’ll be doing:
• Two applications for more than $770,000 have been approved in Kentucky for telemedicine networks.
• The Baptist Foundation of Corbin Inc. received $377,121 “to connect clinical specialists to 10 school-based health centers and two primary-care sites.”
• The Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. in Whitesburg, Ky., received $343,600 for a telemedicine network. These are specifically for very poor areas that also tend to have little transportation.
• Carilion Medical Center in Virginia was given $434,182 to deliver health care to 12 rural southwest Virginia counties.
• And $153,082 was given to the rector and visitors of the University of Virginia. This money is intended to fund a system to provide access to care to 11 rural community care centers, including two mobile health units that will serve six counties.

Kentucky (unlike Tennessee) is also one of the states in the area that has activated Medicaid expansion. Although they are considering making some changes that may reduce the enrollment, they’ve had really landmark results so far – hundreds of thousands of people signing up for healthcare, and a lot being delivered.

Vilsack wants to make sure more people in this area of Kentucky – and the other states, as they apply – know they have health care. And especially the fact that they are now probably eligible for drug rehab and other help with substance abuse through that insurance.

Appalachia, take advantage of what you’ve got – telemedicine, other new resources, and what to do know, for some of you, like those in Kentucky – even drug rehab covered by your insurance.

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