Good news on the opioid front. Last week, the Senate passed a bill focused on prescription opioid and heroin abuse and, the following day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it is awarding $94 million in grants to health centers that focus on treating opioid abuse in underserved populations.
As the HHS press release details, the award money will be distributed to 271 health centers in 45 different states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This funding is expected to help hire approximately 800 providers to treat an estimated 124,000 new patients.
In a recent email correspondence, Keith Humphreys, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, commented on the significance of this additional funding:
This is an important step in the long-term goal of the Obama administration to mainstream care of substance use disorder. For those with insurance, this has been done by requiring health plans to cover substance use disorder treatment. This policy gives the some benefit to another part of the population: the millions of uninsured and underinsured who rely on community health centers for care.
Prescription drug and heroin abuse is a public health crisis affecting roughly 2.1 million people in the United States alone. Yet until recently, funding to address this problem has been sorely lacking and has paled in comparison to the billions of dollars spent on other health issues, such as the AIDS epidemic.
Humphreys has been calling for additional resources to address this issue for quite some time. In a recent 1:2:1 podcast, he quantified the magnitude of this problem and the lack of funding to address it in the following way [at the 12:15 minute mark]:
Overdoses in this country, all of them put together, opioids, cocaine, alcohol, heroin and so forth, are going to kill about 45 thousand Americans this year. That’s more people than died from AIDS at the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Could you imagine us responding to the AIDS epidemic with $50 million?
Previously: Overprescribing of opioids is not just limited to a few bad apples, Stanford addiction expert: “The country needs to spring into action” on heroin epidemic and Heroin: The national epidemic
Photo by Amir G