Communities across the United States are struggling to deal with the effects of an opioid overdose epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 500,000 people died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015. This public health crisis affects not only the individuals and families involved, but also the health and community providers working to address the health, social, and economic consequences of the crisis.
To address this concern, congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016. The bill provides $970 million over a 2-year period for opioid prevention and treatment programs in the hope of reducing the number of drug overdoses. Earlier this month the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its first round of grants to fight the effects of this opioid epidemic. $485 million will be issued to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free-associated states of Palau and Micronesia and will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“We cannot continue to lose our nation’s citizens to addiction,” wrote HHS Secretary Tom Price. “Through a sustained focus on people, patients, and partnerships, I am confident that together we can turn the tide on this public health crisis.” Price continued, “With these grants, we want to promote evidence-based policies and best practices, but we also recognize that states know best what their communities need, and that they have already been at the forefront of supporting prevention, treatment and recovery.”
Secretary Price stated that HHS’s top five priorities in addressing the opioid epidemic are:
- Expanding access to treatment and recovery services
- Supporting the use of opioid overdose reversal drugs
- Improving public health surveillance to increase understanding of the epidemic
- Supporting research on pain and addiction
- Advancing best practices for safe and effective pain management
Funding is awarded to states and territories based on the rate of overdose deaths and unmet need for opioid addiction treatment. California, for example, received the highest grant award of $44.8 million. Ohio received $26 million, and Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming were each awarded $2 million.
One state, Pennsylvania, has already outlined strategies for using their $26.5 million award (the fourth largest grant amount.) On April 24, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf gave details on how the commonwealth plans to use these funds. The state’s initial strategies include:
- Expanding Pennsylvania’s integration of its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program data at the point-of-care, promoting ease-of-use of this data in clinical decision-making
- Providing clinically appropriate treatment services to 6,000 individuals who are uninsured or underinsured.
- Expanding implementation of warm hand-off referral practices to increase the number of patients transferred directly from the emergency department to substance use treatment
- Expanding treatment capacity for Medication Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorder
- Improving quality of prescribing practices through prescriber education
- Increasing the number of youth receiving evidence-based prevention and life skills education programs
In addition, Pennsylvania plans to establish eight treatment hubs with physicians, medical professionals and other community support services working together to assist individuals with substance use disorders.
The transformation of health and human services remains a topic of major concern. We believe the 21st Century Cures Act and the $485 million in grants to address the opioid crisis is one of many developments we will see as HHS continues to shift gears to drive a collaborative system of person-centered care.