CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET DEAL COMMITTS $ 6 BILLION TO FIGHT THE OPIOID CRISIS: HOW TO SPEND IT?
The recently approved two-year Congressional budget deal includes $6 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, a desperately needed influx of funding for this national drug crisis. According to the plan, $3 billion would be available in 2018 and the remainder in 2019, while keeping intact the existing $1 billion in funding from the 21st Century Cures Act that covered 2017 and 2018. What’s missing from the Congressional deal, however, is how the new money will be spent. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said the $6 billion will go toward “new grants, prevention programs and law enforcement in vulnerable communities across the country,” without offering any specific details.
By any measure, the additional $6 billion is still a drop in the bucket considering the scope of the crisis: drug overdose deaths for 2017 are expected to exceed the nearly 64,000 who died in 2016. President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, released a few days after the Congressional agreement, proposed $13 billion for the opioid crisis, with much of that funding being diverted from the office of the White House “drug czar” to the Department for Health and Human Services. As this is highly unlikely to win Congressional approval, the Rosenthal Center has compiled a wish list of priorities for the $6 billion commitment:
- Ensure that all the money allocated by Congress goes toward education, prevention and treatment rather than law enforcement, as the “tough on crime” approach favored by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has little or no impact on drug use.
- $3.8 billion in new money to double the size of the current federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants to the states with the entire amount set aside for prevention, treatment and recovery services. Such grants are quick and easy to implement, and would give the states on the front line of the crisis a secure pipeline for programs already underway, including those that are starting to reduce the overdose death rate.
*Distribute the remaining funds to support the following:
- expanding existing programs and launching new initiatives to increase overall availability of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), with required behavioral therapy and access to long-term residential treatment when needed.
- initiatives focused on education, prevention and treatment programs focused on the highly vulnerable adolescent age group, in order to prevent the next generation of adult addicts.
- establishing a new workforce development program in the addiction services sector to alleviate the scarcity and rapid turnover of personnel, including education loan forgiveness if grantees serve in addiction facilities in high need areas.