More than $1 billion may be used to fight opioids epidemic

We know that $1 billion could buy a lot of drugs, but the White House hopes such an amount of money can be used t address the prescription opioid abuse and heroin abuse epidemic in the United States. President Barack Obama’s “FY 2017 Budget takes a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic,” says a statement released by the Office of the Press Secretary. The first part consists of $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to increase access to successful treatment for people with an opioid abuse problem. This funding would be distributed thus:

·         $920 million to support cooperative agreements with States to improve access to medication-assisted treatment, based on the severity of the epidemic and on the strength of their response strategy. States can use these funds to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable.

·         $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to increase access to substance use treatment providers. This funding will help support about 700 providers able to provide substance use disorder treatment services, such as medication-assisted treatment, in areas across the country where behavioral health providers are most needed.

·         $30 million to assess the effectiveness of treatment programs that use medication-assisted treatment under real-world conditions and help identify opportunities to better treatment for patients with opioid use disorders.

The second part involves a sum in the vicinity of $500 million to expand strategies pioneered by the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS). These efforts include state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, medication-assisted treatment programs, access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and targeted enforcement activities. A share of the funding would specifically address the high rates of overdose and opioid use in rural areas. The Budget includes an HHS pilot project for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment.

“The President has made clear that addressing the opioid overdose epidemic is a priority for his Administration and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose,” says the press release. These tools include evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, and prescription drug take-back events. Opioids were involved in 28,648 deaths in 2014, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, many doctors continue prescribing opioid painkillers – and patients continue to demand them – oblivious to drug-free, side effect-free, and cost-effective alternatives such as inexpensive TENS units. Furthermore, it is unclear whether lawmakers will support the White House proposal or opt for alternatives such as Senator Rob Portman’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, “the only bipartisan legislation that includes a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to help communities combat this epidemic,” according to Portman himself.

“It has significant support from both sides of the aisle, as well as from doctors, nurses, first responders, those in recovery, and other experts in the field,” the Republican senator said in a statement. “I support providing additional resources to help fight this epidemic. We must also ensure that the programs we have in place focus on proven methods for helping law enforcement and supporting long-term recovery of individuals and families who most need our help. If the White House is serious about fighting the heroin epidemic, the president will signal his support.” However, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said the administration is not ready to endorse the legislation yet, though both it and legislators like Portman are working “to ensure that we have a comprehensive, unified response” to the prescription opioid epidemic. It may be that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and like in a meth lab, that’s never a good idea.

Related: 73 facts you need to know about the opioid overdose epidemic