WASHINGTON D.C. — It might not be uncommon to someday see drug treatment clinics on wheels traveling the countryside among the corn and soybeans.
The USDA has announced it is giving funding priority to grant programs considered key to fighting what it terms an opioid crisis in rural communities across the nation. Mobile treatment clinics are among the tools in the drug war that qualify for funding in the Community Facilities Grant Program (CFGP).
USDA has reserved $5 million for the CFGP that rural communities, nonprofit organizations and federally recognized tribes each can tap into, for up to $150,000. Recipients could get up to 75 percent of the cost of their projects covered with approval of their grant applications, according to the agency.
“The opioid epidemic is dramatically impacting prosperity in many small towns and rural places across the country. With this focused investment, we are targeting our resources to be a strong partner to rural communities in building an effective local response to this significant challenge,” said Anne Hazlett, assistant to the secretary for Rural Development at USDA.
Also given funding priority by USDA for an unspecified amount is the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant program. Opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services qualify for funding under that grant program.
Telemedicine allows specialized care to be readily available to rural communities lacking traditional brick-and-mortar facilities by allowing doctors to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients at a distance through use of telecommunications technology.
Expanding the delivery of health-related services through such means stems from the findings of a task force created by President Trump in April 2017 to promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. The findings included modernizing health care in less populated areas through innovative approaches like traveling substance treatment centers and telemedicine, officials said.
In 2009, USDA began providing funds to rural communities nationwide for establishing telemedicine services in areas like mental health. Among the approved grants in 2016 were for delivery of medical, substance abuse and mental health treatment in rural areas in states including Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia through telemedicine.
Those grants came to about $1.5 million, according to USDA.
Applications this year from both growing funding sources must be submitted to USDA’s Rural Development office in the state for which the applicant is located, by no later than June 4. Grant applications can be submitted online at www.grants.gov
Hard copies can also be mailed to: USDA Rural Development Telecommunications Programs, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 2844, STOP 1597, Washington, DC 20250-1597.
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) estimates close to 64,000 people died in the United States in 2016 from drug overdoses. More than half of the deaths were from opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers, according to the NCHS.
The funding set aside by USDA comes as the Trump administration aggressively pursues ways of combating the opioid epidemic, USDA officials said.
Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. The assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care, and high-speed internet access in rural areas.