How to fight the opioid crisis & your student loan debt

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How to fight the opioid crisis & your student loan debt

The opioid epidemic and skyrocketing student loan debt are two of the nation’s most publicized challenges.

On average 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, student loan debt has crept up to more than $1.5 trillion.

The Health Resources & Services Administration recently launched a program that tackles both issues. In late December, HRSA announced the NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program, a $225 million pool of funding that provides student loan repayment assistance to those on the front lines of the opioid crisis working in underserved areas across the nation.

Here are the key things you need to know about this student loan repayment opportunity.

What does the program offer?

The big news is that the program provides up to $75,000 in student loan repayment. Yes, $75,000.

To be eligible for the money, a health care worker must spend three years providing full-time or part-time substance use disorder treatment services at an NHSC-approved site (more on that later.) Those who work full-time (40 hours per week) are eligible for the full $75,000. Part-time employment qualifies for as much as $37,500.

The money is designed to both recruit new workers and retain those already in the field, said Israil Ali, director of the Division of the National Health Service Corps.

“There is a workforce currently combating the opioid epidemic and we want to make sure we are retaining that workforce and that they are not having to worry about student loan debt,” said Ali. “But we are also looking to incentivize those who are considering this as a career choice. This is an opportunity to provide a pathway to this career.”

Who is eligible?

The money targets a list of specific health care roles including physicians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, physician assistants, behavioral health professionals, registered nurses and substance use disorder counselors.

Applicants must also be U.S. citizens. In addition, priority will be given to applicants who have various licenses such as being licensed or certified in substance use disorder intervention.

Where to find jobs that qualify for the new program

While the program does not require moving to an underserved area of need, it does require working in one.

The Health Workforce Connector site is designed to help clinicians find these locations around the country where there are job openings that qualify.

“We want to make sure we are making awards to those who are working in places where there’s the most need,” said Ali. “We’re using this as an incentive for vulnerable communities because we know they may have challenges attracting high-quality providers.”

The first round deadline

The deadline for the first round of applications is approaching quickly. Submissions must be received by 7:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 21.

But there will be future application windows, said Ali, who recommends signing up for email alerts that provide news and notifications about the program. He also suggests studying the application guidelines carefully.

“We’re looking at making substantial awards in this coming year,” said Ali. “There’s an abundance of money and our goal is to make as many awards as we can.”

Those whose application is approved will receive the payment 90 days after the award notice.

Image: Aleksandra Jankovic

Further reading: Many people are getting nalaxone prescriptions to prevent overdoses. But could it hurt their chances of getting life insurance?