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Helen Ross McNabb: Flood of opioid treatment money would be more effective with less earmarking

Helen Ross McNabb's Hilde Phipps said changes to the way federal opioid treatment money is given out would be beneficial to those looking to recover.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An East Tennessee treatment center said if some of the flood of federal money to combat opioid addiction could be used for other addictions, it would benefit more people looking for help.

Helen Ross McNabb provides addiction treatment for thousands of people each year.

They're partially funded through federal dollars.

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While it's grateful for the funding it receives, the center says certain rules mean they can't help as many people as they want.

Much like the meaning of song runs deeper than just the music, drug addiction often stems from something more.

Kris Rucinski used music to help him recover after he overdosed multiple times.

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"I uncovered some issues that happened to me in my early life that continue to have an impact on me today," Rucinski said. "Recovery is not very much about what kinds of drugs we used to do. It's more about having a common goal of becoming a reasonable, productive member of society." 

Rucinski said he wants that same experience for anyone who looks to get help.

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At Helen Ross McNabb, getting that help can sometimes be more complicated than Hilde Phipps would like.

The opioid crisis hitting the nation brought a flood of money from the federal government to treatment centers, but Phipps says much of it was earmarked for just opioids.

"We're grateful for any funding," Phipps said. "But what often happens is by the time our government partners have identified an issue or a trend, it may be further along than we may have seen."

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She says more people are using meth, but much of the money they have is just for opioids.

"Instead of being so very specific, if maybe 80% could be used for opiates, and maybe 20% of all funding let us treat whoever comes through the door--that way the people who are giving the funding could predict where the next level of funding would need to be."

Rucinski said that would help treatment centers turn fewer people away.

"Having that perseverance to not give up after maybe being turned down for a bed at one location is the key to finally breaking through and getting into that recovery process," Rucinski said.

Phipps said if they can treat more people sooner, they'll reduce the number of people who go to jail on drug-related charges.

That would save taxpayers money down the line.

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