The Government Mobilizes to Fight the Opioid Epidemic
- Trump declares a “public health emergency”
- White House commission outlines 56 recommendations
- No new funding request undercuts implementation
Federal efforts to address the opioid epidemic gained momentum in October. President Trump declared a public health emergency and a week later his special opioid commission issued its final report with 56 wide-ranging recommendations. Unfortunately, neither the administration nor the commission requested any additional funding to back up the proposals, raising questions about how and when they would be implemented. The commission did press Congress to “appropriate sufficient funds” but did not identify how much is needed.
This was a missed opportunity. We know that effective treatment, especially long-term residential treatment, can save lives – but it also requires money. The current $1 billion for anti-drug initiatives available under the 21st Century Cures Act is insufficient, given the widening scope of the crisis. In an interview on Fox television news, I repeated a Rosenthal Center proposal to immediately double the existing federal block grants to the states, which would free up $1.9 billion for critical state programs. But experts estimate that at least ten billion a year is needed to cope with what the administration recognized as “the worst drug crisis in American history.”
The commission’s recommendations included many effective strategies already in place. Some focus on harm reduction, others on prevention and education, as well as prescription monitoring, doctor training and making overdose reversal drugs more available. It called for expanding drug courts and streamlining the way federal dollars are funneled to the states for anti-drug initiatives. To increase treatment capacity, the commission recommended lifting in all 50 states the regulation that limits the number of beds in treatment facilities that receive Medicaid support. The Center endorses this measure that would immediately open treatment to thousands of low-income Americans.
Otherwise, the report acknowledged the need for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – which combines behavioral counseling with drugs to reduce withdrawal cravings – saying it was “underutilized” and should be expanded. But the report did not say how.
Given the scope of this crisis, we cannot make recommendations without committing more dollars. In its just released 2017 drug threat assessment report, the DEA found that overdose deaths, already at a high level, continue to rise due to the mixing of heroin with the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, a drug more widely available than ever before. “It has never been a more important time to use all the tools at our disposal to fight this epidemic,” the report concluded. The Rosenthal Center will continue to send that message loud and clear to politicians, policymakers and the media.