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College of Social Work


Helping to Shape Medicaid Policy on Opioid Treatment

Oct. 8, 2018
By Chris Woodley, cwoodley@mailbox.sc.edu

Assistant Professor Christina Andrews, a leading researcher on opioid use disorder treatment, has helped shape Medicaid policy by sharing her research with the U.S. House of Representatives and has been published in such-nationally recognized journals as Health Affairs and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Andrews is currently principal investigator of a five-year Mentored Research Scientist Development-award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to assess whether health homes for Medicaid enrollees with chronic health conditions are successful in identifying and treating addiction, and ultimately reduce the need for and costs of acute care addiction-related conditions.

“There are approximately 35 different health home models throughout the country,” said Andrews. “I’m looking at some of the early adopters of the health home model to determine whether this approach to care coordination increases rates of screening and treatment for addiction, and whether people in out-patient settings are less likely to overdose or suffer other addiction-related conditions that require acute care.”

Andrews research has also focused on the Affordable Care Act’s influence on opioid use disorder. In an article published in the Aug. 2018 edition of Health Affairs, Andrews explained how Medicaid benefits have expanded after the ACA’s implementation. This included a 50 percent decrease in states imposing annual service limits on outpatient addiction treatment and fewer required preauthorization for services.

“Publishing results in high-profile journals like Health Affairs helps translate teaching and research into action by making legislators and policy makers aware of research findings that can guide their work," said Dean Sarah Gehlert.

Earlier this year, Andrews presented strategies for improving identification of opioid use disorder and access treatment within the workforce. She was invited to Washington, D.C. and testified in front of the Committee for Education and the Workforce on how opioid misuse is impairing employers’ ability to hire, support and retain qualified workers.

“The questions I received provided an opportunity to cover some of the key aspects of my research, including the opioid epidemic, parity legislation, Medicaid expansion and the effectiveness of medication assisted treatment,” said Andrews.

She contends that research by social work scholars will best provide solutions to the opioid epidemic.

“Social work is uniquely suited as a home for this work,” said Andrews. “The study of opioid use has long been led by the fields of psychiatry and psychology, which have often focused primarily on the individual. Social work focuses on broader social context to understand how neighborhoods, communities, local markets and broader policy contexts influence public health.”