NDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — President Obama wants to spend up to $1.1 billion to combat the nation’s heroin problem, which has ravaged parts of the U.S. through increased overdose deaths, overcrowded jails and overwhelming costs to state Medicaid budgets.
The plan, unveiled Tuesday, will become part of Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2017.
It calls for spending more than $900 million on increased monitoring of prescription drugs and increased access to drug treatment facilities, which often have long waiting lists.
The budget proposal also calls for giving at-risk states money to pay for evidence-based treatments, medication-driven therapies and Narcan, also known as naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose. The announcement Tuesday followed a bipartisan budget agreement that Obama signed in December that included $400 million in funding specifically to address the opioid epidemic, an increase of more than $100 million over the previous year, the White House said in a statement.
That agreement removed a longstanding ban on using federal funds to pay for needle exchanges, which experts argue can help reduce the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis.
What was not clear in a conference call with reporters is which states would be deemed “at-risk” and what criteria would be used to determine where the monies would be directed.
The spending proposal includes the following:
- $920 million to support cooperative agreements with States to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. States will receive funds based on the severity of the epidemic and on the strength of their strategy to respond to it. States can use these funds to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable.
- $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to expand access to substance use treatment providers. This funding will help support approximately 700 providers able to provide substance use disorder treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment, in areas across the country most in need of behavioral health providers.
- $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs employing medication-assisted treatment under real-world conditions and help identify opportunities to improve treatment for patients with opioid use disorders.
The problem with heroin isn’t new.
Michael Botticelli, the White House’s director of national drug control policy, said that while the country has actually seen a reduction in the number of prescription-related overdose deaths among certain age groups, there has been an increase in the number of heroin-related overdose deaths.
Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When a reporter asked for an explanation from the White House about how the heroin problem has worsened during the Obama administration’s watch, Botticelli replied:
“Clearly, we have substantial work to do in terms of not only increase access to treatment, which part of this (budget) is addressing, but dealing with the overdose deaths,” Botticelli said. “While we have seen leveling off of prescription overdose deaths, we have seen increases in deaths associated with heroin and synthetic heroin, fentanyl. I think this underscores that we need to take more action – that the president understands the urgency of this issue – (and that) we have made some progress but we need to do more, particularly as it relates to people accessing treatment.”
Before this plan becomes it reality, it must first pass a Republican-controlled Congress, which could create some hurdles among leaders hesitant to spend more federal dollars.