USA TODAY – With $500 million in hand to fight the opioid epidemic, White House officials are moving quickly to get that money flowing to the hardest-hit states—and pushing local officials to spend the new dollars on treatment above other addiction-related initiatives.
The opioid funding came as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, a sweeping medical innovation bill that President Obama signed into law on Tuesday. Congress agreed to devote another $500 million next year to combat what has become a public health crisis, with nearly 80 Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses.
Michael Botticelli, the White House drug czar, said states will have some flexibility to use the anti-addiction money for prevention and recovery support. But expanding treatment, particularly in rural areas where health providers are scarce, will be an overriding focus as the Obama administration doles out the money, he said.
More than 80 percent of Americans who need of opioid addiction treatment do not have access to such services—with many languishing on waiting lists and their loved ones praying they don’t overdose in the interim.
“We really want to make sure … states use these resources to really close that treatment gap,” Botticelli said. “No matter where you live, you shouldn’t have to travel long distances or wait weeks or months to get treatment.”
Federal officials in charge of substance abuse programs will start seeking state funding applications soon, he said, but it’s unclear how quickly the Obama administration can get that money out there door. The applications will be reviewed and approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, or SAMSHA.
Botticelli did not directly answer questions about whether the Obama administration was trying to get grants approved before the president leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in on Jan. 20.
Don Flattery, who attended Tuesday’s bill signing and who lost a son to opioid overdose, said he was thrilled the Obama administration was moving quickly and emphasizing treatment.
“I believe that will save lives, and it’s critically important to me as a parent, because my son faced a number of obstacles in gaining access to good treatment,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s commitment to combating the opioid epidemic, Flattery suggested he would look more to Congress to keep this commitment.
“We don’t know what the incoming administration’s position will be,” said Flattery, who serves on the Virginia Governor’s prescription drug and heroin task force.
“Advocates are not stopping,” he added. “There’s still a lot left on the table to address.”
Under the Cures Act, states with the highest rates of opioid addiction and overdoses will get preference in snagging the federal funds. Botticelli said it was too early to say how much each state might receive, with that determined in part by the strength of each state’s application.
But under Obama’s original budget request for opioid funding, which closely matches the amount Congress approved, here’s how some of the hardest-hit states could benefit over the next two years:
- Ohio could be eligible for up to $45 million
- West Virginia could see up to $10 million
- New Hampshire would be eligible for up to $5 million