Billions approved for fight to end opioid epidemic

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

Nearly $4 billion to support a multifaceted approach to combating the opioid epidemic is included in the $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill signed into law on Friday.

The money will pay for law-enforcement programs directed at opioid trafficking as well as medical programs aimed at preventing and treating opioid-use disorder.

Most of the money will go to Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which will get $1 billion to fund State Opioid Response Grants (this is in addition to the $500 million provided in the 21st Century Cures Act); $84 million for the Medication Assisted Treatment-Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction state grant program; and $50 million dedicated for health programs for Native Americans.

Other funds going to HHS agencies include:

  • $476.5 million to support Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activities to prevent drug overdoses, including $10 million for a nationwide education and awareness campaign. The CDC will also promote expanded use of prescription-drug monitoring programs (PDMPS), expand PDMP utility by making them more interconnected, with timelier information and better integration with electronic health records.
  • $100 million for a new Rural Communities Opioids Response program to support treatment and prevention efforts in rural counties identified by the CDC as being at the highest risk for substance-use disorder.
  • $60 million in state grants for developing Plans of Safe Care for infants affected by substance use disorder.

The bill also contains significant budget increases for the National Health Services Corps to expand loan-repayment awards for health care professionals providing substance abuse disorder treatment in rural and underserved areas. There is also more money for the Behavioral Health Workforce and Training Program to help recruit and train professionals for social work, psychology, psychiatry, substance abuse prevention and treatment, and other areas of behavioral health services.

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Other departments and agencies receiving funding include:

  • The National Institutes of Health, $500 million, for research on opioid addiction, developing opioid alternatives, pain management and addiction treatment.
  • The Department of Justice, $446.5 million, for law enforcement and grant programs. This includes $330 million for special courts systems for behavioral-health patients and veterans, treatment for those in prisons, PDMPs and a comprehensive opioid-use disorder program. The total also includes $32 million for anti-heroin task force grants, and more money to the Drug Enforcement Administration for enforcement programs directed at opioid, heroin and fentanyl misuse.
  • The Food and Drug Administration, $94 million, to strengthen the agency’s capability to inspect more incoming packages and better detect fentanyl at international mail facilities.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture, $20 million, for telemedicine and distance-learning services aimed at addressing the rural opioid epidemic.

Earlier this month, the AMA responded to a House Ways and Means Committee request for ideas on responding to the opioid epidemic.

A multifaceted approach from physicians and other health professionals working with policymakers, law enforcement, the justice system and local communities is needed, AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in the March 15 letter to committee leaders. He outlined a broad scope of changes that should be made to increase patient access to medication-assisted treatment, and non-opioid pain and multimodal pain care.

Dr. Madara’s letter echoed sentiments expressed last fall by AMA Opioid Task Force Chair Patrice A. Harris, MD, on the occasion of the President Trump’s declaration of the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency.

“Ending the epidemic will require physicians, insurers, drug manufacturers and the government to follow through with resources, evidence-based treatment plans and smart public policies at the national and state levels,” Dr. Harris said.

More information on the AMA’s efforts to stem the opioid epidemic can be found on its End the Epidemic microsite.