Substance Use Disorders in Douglas County: A Call for Action

Substance use disorders, in particular opioid and alcohol use disorders, are a major health issue in Douglas County. The hospital admission rate for drug poisonings is 3.7 per 10,000, and both significantly higher than the state and trending up. In 2020, there were 255 opioid overdose deaths in Kansas, which accounted for 53.6% of all drug overdose deaths in the state.

Substance use disorder affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to an inability to control their use of illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications. For those struggling SUD, getting help can be difficult. Researchers have found that about half of individuals who experience addiction during their lives will also experience a co-occurring mental disorder.

People seeking help for SUD should be evaluated by a health care provider to make an accurate diagnosis due to the possibility of overlapping symptoms.

Nearly 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.  Overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioidsheroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), have increased by more than eight times since 1999. Overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 69,000 people in 2020.

Medications, such as Suboxone, should be combined with behavioral counseling for a whole-person approach, known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). MAT is proven to decrease opioid use. Patients treated with medication are also more likely to remain in therapy compared to patients receiving treatment that did not include medication. Additionally, there is an 80% increase in SUD treatment completion when paired with integrated care services.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.

Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for some people struggling with addiction, MAT can help sustain recovery.

MAT has proved to significantly reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services for people with substance use disorder.

MAT is also used to prevent or reduce opioid overdose. When a person is treated for an opioid addiction with a medication such as Suboxone, the dosage does not get them “high”. Medication Assisted Treatment helps restore balance to the brain while reducing cravings and withdrawal.

The goal of MAT is full recovery, including the ability to live a self-directed life. This treatment approach has been shown to:

  • Improve patient survival
  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders
  • Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
  • Improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant


Alcohol Use Disorder Medications

Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat alcohol use disorder.

They do not provide a cure for the disorder but are most effective in people who participate in a MAT program.

Opioid Dependency Medications

At Heartland, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone are used to treat opioid use disorders to short-acting opioids such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

These MAT medications are safe to use for months, years, or even a lifetime.

In 2021, Heartland treated more than 1,000 people with MAT services like Suboxone, 35% of which uninsured.  In addition to accepting Medicaid/Medicare and commercial insurance, Heartland has a sliding-fee scale and many options available for people without insurance or ability to pay for treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact Heartland today.


46.8 million (16.7%) Americans (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in the past year. 10.5% of Americans 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder in the past year. About 27.2 million Americans 12 or older (9.7%) reported battling a drug use disorder in the past year. That same year, 8 million (2.9%) of Americans 12 and older struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously. 21.5 million American adults (8.4%) suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders in the past year.