Increasing Access to Medication Assisted Treatment by Supporting Counselors

By Chelsea Kelleher, Senior Policy Consultant

There are numerous initiatives underway in California to address the opioid epidemic. The state’s Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Expansion Project, administered by the Department of Health Care Services and funded through recent federal grants from SAMHSA, has a three-prong approach to addressing the crisis: 1) reducing over-prescribing; 2) increasing access to MAT; and 3) increasing the availability of Naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

MAT is an evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder which uses FDA-approved medications and counseling to treat the whole patient in their effort to achieve recovery from addiction. The MAT Expansion Project is promoting access to treatment by increasing the number of individuals able to prescribe medications, the number of settings in which treatment is offered, and by educating the public about evidence-based SUD treatment and where it is available.

On behalf of DHCS, Harbage Consulting created the MAT Toolkit for Counselors to educate and inform SUD counselors about MAT. SUD counselors play an important role in California’s response to the opioid crisis, since they often work most closely with individuals. As access to MAT increases throughout the state, counselors need information about how to connect people to treatment and how to work with those already receiving medications for addiction.

The toolkit is a resource for counselors to learn about MAT and how to help  people seek help. The two-part booklet explains the research supporting MAT and how counselors can help individuals who are receiving MAT as part of their treatment. It includes:

  • A “quick guide” to helping patients find an MAT prescriber (page 18)
  • Two “quick guides” summarizing the FDA-approved medications for treating opioid and alcohol use disorder (pages 20-24)
  • An instruction guide to using the overdose reversal drug Narcan (page 25)
  • The National Council on Behavioral Health’s resource, “Challenging Myths about MAT​” (page 26)
  • SAMHSA’s educational resource, “MAT for Opioid Addiction – Facts for Family and Friends” (page 27-46)

Harbage Consulting is distributing the MAT Toolkit for Counselors at a series of state-wide educational summits for members of the SUD workforce. The summits are intended to educate counselors and other providers about how they can help promote access to MAT. The first summits were held in Sacramento and Anaheim in early June, with more planned throughout the year. Harbage Consulting is also working with organizations that certify counselors in California to distribute copies to their membership.

This toolkit is the second in a series of MAT-focused toolkits that our firm is developing over the next two years. The first tool kit, Promoting Access to MAT in Residential Treatment Facilities, was aimed at informing residential treatment providers about how they can offer MAT within their facility, either by allowing residents to access medications during their stay, or by receiving approval from DHCS to provide Incidental Medical Services and provide MAT onsite. Stay tuned for updates on our work with DHCS on SUD treatment issues and additional toolkits targeted at different populations that may benefit from understanding more about MAT!