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Am J Addict. 2003 May-Jun;12(3):220-8.

Fiscal strain and access to opiate substitution therapy at Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.

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Veterans Integrated Service Network, Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, West Haven, Conn., USA. Robert.Rosenheck@Yale.Edu


This study examines the relationship between institutional fiscal strain and the availability of opiate substitution therapy (eg, methadone maintenance), an effective but relatively expensive treatment for heroin addiction. An observational design was used to examine the association of changes in funding and changes in provision for treating opiate addiction at 29 VA Medical Centers (VAMCs). We hypothesized that VAMCs experiencing greater fiscal strain would show reduced availability of opiate substitution treatment. Administrative records from each of 29 VAMCs that provided opiate substitution therapy in both Fiscal Year (FY) 1995 and FY 1999 were used to measure changes in the availability of this service, ie, the percent change in total patients treated, annual visits per patient, and total services delivered. Institutional fiscal strain was measured by the percent decline in per capita funding at four levels at each VAMC: the entire medical center, all mental health programs, all substance abuse programs (inpatient and outpatient), and outpatient substance abuse programs alone. The total number of patients receiving opiate substitution increased from 5,549 in FY 1995 to 6,884 in FY 1999 (24%), annual visits per patient decreased by 16%, and the total number of units of services increased by 4%. There were no significant relationships between changes in the delivery of opiate substitution services and changes in per capita funding at any of the four institutional levels. No new programs were started during these years. Although no new programs were started, the availability of opiate substitution therapy at VA facilities with existing programs was maintained over a five-year period regardless of local funding changes, although at somewhat reduced intensity.

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