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INDIANAPOLIS — A federal agency has awarded Indiana $8.4 million to help fight the opioid epidemic by boosting access to substance abuse treatment and mental health services.

The funding was announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency said the funding will enable academic institutions and community health centers funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to expand access to both treatment and mental health services.

In Northwest Indiana, Gary-based Community Healthnet, Valparaiso-based HealthLinc, Portage-based NorthShore Health Centers and Merrillville-based Regional Health Systems each received grants of $167,000.

NorthShore Health Centers plans to use the money to add a psychiatrist to its staff and further improve and expand its behavioral health offerings, said Tricia Hall, a spokeswoman for the federally qualified health center.

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NorthShore recently acquired Frontline Foundations, a drug treatment agency with locations in Chesterton and LaPorte. "This allows us to add addiction counseling to our services and also give patients access to medical care and medication-assisted treatment when working to overcome their addictions," Hall said.

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Regional Health Systems intends to add a master’s level social worker, according to spokeswoman Ericka McCauley. "The additional personnel expands our services by increasing access to high-quality, integrated mental health and substance use disorder services such as opioid use disorder," she said.

The funding also will help organizations fight the opioid crisis in Indiana's rural areas.

The new funding supports the Health and Human Services' Five-Point Opioid Strategy drafted in 2017.

The agency said that between 2016 and 2018 the number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction rose 142% nationwide at community health centers funded by the HRSA.

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