Federal Grants Will Help All 50 States Combat Opioid Epidemic

Federal Grants Will Help All 50 States Combat Opioid Epidemic

Tom Price, M.D., the Trump administration's new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has announced a $485 million grant to help states and territories combat opioid addiction. The grants, to be made available shortly, will be distributed through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants, a new program to be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The $485 million is the first of two rounds of grants totaling $1 billion, provided under the controversial 21 st Century Cures Act. "The funding will be distributed to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free associated states of Palau and Micronesia," the HHS announcement said. "Funding will support a comprehensive array of prevention, treatment, and recovery services depending on the needs of recipients. States and territories were awarded funds based on rates of overdose deaths and unmet need for opioid addiction treatment." The Act included a landmark mental health reform bill titled "Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act" which includes extensive new funding for combating and treating substance abuse disorders. In a letter to governors announcing the grants, Secretary Price outlined the administration's "commitment to address the opioid crisis as each state and territory across the country works to address the significant health, social, and economic consequences." The Secretary added: "These grants aim to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet need, and reduce overdose related deaths. I understand the urgency of this funding; however, I also want to ensure the resources and policies are properly aligned with and remain responsive to this evolving epidemic. "Therefore, while I am releasing the funding for the first year immediately, my intention for the second year is to develop funding allocations and policies that are the most clinically sound, effective and efficient. To that end, in the coming weeks and months, I will seek your assistance to identify best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that produce measurable results. Thank you for your collaboration and partnership as we move forward in this critical work together to help the millions of Americans hurt by this public health crisis." HHS has prioritized five specific strategies to combat the opioid crisis:

  • Strengthening public health surveillance
  • Advancing the practice of pain management
  • Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  • Targeting availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs
  • Supporting cutting-edge research.

Controversial act

The 21 st Century Cures Act was considered controversial when it was still under review over the past couple of years, because it modifies - actually weakens - the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Drug Approval process. Provisions were included in the Act to speed up medical drug and device development and approvals by reducing the requirements that help predict safety and effectiveness. These provisions were heavily pushed by the pharmaceutical industry. It was reported that more than 1,400 lobbyists worked on this bill, representing more than 400 interests - mostly pharmaceutical companies. As is so often the case, lobbyists wrote the law, not our elected lawmakers. The Act was opposed by consumer organizations - and even the FDA during 2015 and 2016 before it finally received approval in December. Concern about those aspects of the Act that lower the standards for testing and approving drugs and devices still remain. President Trump's pick to head the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is apparently okay with those provisions in the Act. Not surprising since Trump said numerous times during his campaign that he wants to see faster drug approvals. But the Obama administration's new FDA head, Robert Califf, M.D., didn't raise much objection either after briefly taking the post last spring. And that's not surprising either, since Califf spent most of his career as a highly paid consultant for Big Pharma.

Nevertheless, and all politics aside, having hundreds of millions of dollars added to the anti-drugs arsenal is more than welcome - it's fantastic. And it's only the first half of the promised $1 billion. What's required now is that all stakeholders, that is, everyone involved in prevention and treatment, keep an eye on how those funds are being spent. Help is on the way, so we need to stay proactive to make sure this job gets done.

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