Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has been awarded a $2 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support the state’s behavioral health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant will support NCDHHS’s efforts to address the growing needs of people with mental health issues and substance use disorder as it relates to the COVID-19 crisis, along with the mental health needs of the general public and health care workers who are on the front lines of this pandemic.

This award is part of an overall program totaling $110 million awarded to states and federally recognized tribes and territories. NCDHHS has received the maximum award of $2 million.

“A clear symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic is fear and anxiety caused by disruption in the lives of many North Carolinians — people have lost jobs, their daily routines and their sense of stability and belonging,” said Kody H. Kinsley, Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. “This funding is an important investment toward the response we must rally to support the behavioral health and wellness of every North Carolinian.”

NCDHHS has acted aggressively to sustain and bolster the behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disability system during the COVID-19 emergency. The funds from SAMHSA will be used to strengthen the Hope4Healers helpline (919-226-2002), a new initiative of NCDHHS in partnership with the N.C. Psychological Foundation which connects health care workers and their families to licensed clinicians through telehealth and provides short-term support to cope with symptoms and build resilience.

This grant will also support North Carolina’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic by supporting access to Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) in areas of the state particularly hard hit economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of the individuals enrolled in OTPs are self-pay; therefore job losses are often a significant barrier to an individual continuing treatment.

Additionally, these funds will also be used for additional supports for individuals transitioning from jails and prisons who have existing substance use disorders and provide counseling and other supports for underserved populations at high risk for mental health disorders.

A key element of NCDHHS’ approach to this grant and subsequent work is strategically partnering with providers who specialize in serving historically underserved communities.