White House to commit $116m
to Heroin and opioid abuse epidemic
The Obama administration announced new measures on Tuesday to combat the growing epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid abuse, most of which are centered on prevention and treatment, not crime-fighting.
The White House is committing $116m to support treatment, with nine actions that include expanding access to care and drugs for combatting overdoses. It also proposed $7m in US justice department funding to increase community policing.
Michael Collins, deputy director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said the increased focus on helping addicts rather than interdicting drugs and incarcerating dealers continues Obama’s commitment to “doing more than previous administrations to roll back the war on drugs”.
But Collins questioned where the funds would come from to pay for the proposed measures, and called the policing proposal a “step backward”.
Tuesday’s announcement builds on Obama’s call last month for an additional $1.1bn in congressional funding to fight the growing public health problem, according to the White House. Opioids have killed 28,647 people in 2014, a four-fold increase in opioid overdoses since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obama is expected to discuss the plan Tuesday afternoon on a panel at theNational Prescription Drug Abuse Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
The most significant monetary investment in the plan is $94m in “new funding” that Health and Human Services Department (HHS) released earlier this month, so that 271 Community Health Centers could expand “medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities”. This funding could result in the centers treating 124,000 new patients, according to the White House.
The plan also includes $11m for states to distribute naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and an HHS proposed rule that would allow qualified doctors to increase the number of patients to whom they can prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that combats opioid addiction, from 100 to 200.
A growing number of drugstores and pharmacy chains are making the anti-overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription in certain locations, including RiteAid, Kroger, Walgreens and CVS, the White House noted.
Another new HHS rule is being finalized that would treat substance abuse and mental health services like medical and surgical benefits under Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program programs. The White House says this could affect more than 23 million people.
Tuesday’s announcement also mentioned a host of private-sector initiatives to combat prescription opioid and heroin addiction, including a new initiative involving more than 60 medical schools, where students will have to study recently-issued CDC guidelines for prescribing opioids in order to graduate. The guidelines are an attempt to cut back on over-prescribing painkillers.
Collins, of the Drug Policy Alliance, applauded the growing emphasis on treatment, especially since “one thing we’ve learned over the years is that putting more money into law enforcement is not going to reduce the supply of heroin.”
But he also noted that the White House’s announcement reflected “a renewed focus on compassion for addicts – because it’s white people from rural areas [who are now affected], whereas in previous decades it was black people in inner cities.” Regardless of how it’s come about, he said, “it’s a positive step.”