Federal Funding to Combat the Opioid Crisis

Officially declared a public health emergency in October 2017, the Opioid Crisis has claimed nearly 100,000 lives from 2017 to 2018, accounting for the vast majority of U.S. drug overdoses in those years. In 2017 alone, an estimated 1.8 million individuals suffered from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) [1]. While federal dollars to combat the epidemic have been found in Medicaid, behavioral health, public health, child welfare, and criminal justice programs, targeted funding has been of increasing attention in recent years [2]. The first of these efforts, contained within the 21st Century Cures Act, was proposed and signed into law in December of 2016. The legislation’s Opioid STR Grant Program allocated up to $1 billion in state funding to combat the epidemic and was overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The program expanded access to treatment, evidence-based prevention efforts, and recovery support services [3]

However, the bulk of federal opioid funding has come in recent years. Federal funding for the crisis is allocated across numerous government agencies, with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) receiving the largest share at 77 percent of appropriations. A comprehensive analysis conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center identified 57 federal programs that finance the battle against OUD. Altogether, they report that the government apportioned nearly $11 billion in federal dollars to address the national health emergency in FY2017 and FY2018 discretionary appropriations bills. The breakdown between the two years saw a staggering 124% increase, with 2017 opioid-earmarked funds totaling $3.3 billion and increasing to $7.4 billion in 2018. Such financing is dedicated to strengthening all areas of care, including prevention, treatment and recovery, as well as to supporting research, criminal justice, epidemiological surveillance, and supply abatement efforts [4]

In a recent press briefing on September 4th, 2019, it was announced that $1.8 billion would be granted in new federal funds to fight the opioid epidemic. By the conclusion of 2019, HHS will have allotted over $9 billion in state and community grant programs in a sweeping aim to increase treatment and prevention services. In these efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plays a vital role in collating the necessary information for identifying the areas of most need in the ongoing crisis. The CDC will head a $900 million Overdose Data to Action Program ($301 million spent in 2019) to support a three-year partnership with states, localities, and territories to strengthen our understanding of the epidemic and most effectively up-scale prevention and response schemes [5]

Since 2017, HHS has been working in coordination with a number of federal agencies to carry out its comprehensive 5-point strategy, intended to realize: 

  1. Improved OUD prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  2. Greater and higher quality data collection
  3. Promotion of evidence-based pain management methods
  4. Increased access to life-saving (overdose-reversing) medication
  5. Enhanced research to inform clinical practice and drug policy [6].

Also, in the September 4th briefing, HHS Secretary Alex Azar underscored the importance of medicated-assisted treatment for OUD and cautiously reported the first drop in overdose-related deaths in more than twenty years. Even so, this national health crisis remains situated within the broader issue of Americans’ lack of universal access to healthcare services. As such, HHS fully acknowledges that there is more work to be done and is fully committed to bringing an end to the opioid epidemic [7]

[1] “Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html. 

[2] Normile, Becky, Carrie Hanlon, and Hannah Eichner. “State Strategies to Meet the Needs of Young Children and Families Affected by the Opioid Crisis.” National Academy for State Health Policy, October 2018. https://nashp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Children-and-Opioid-Epidemic-1.pdf.

[3] Bonamici, and Suzanne. “H.R.34 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): 21st Century Cures Act.” Congress.gov, December 13, 2016. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/34/.

[4] “Tracking Federal Funding to Combat the Opioid Crisis.” Bipartisan Policy Center, March 2019. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/tracking-federal-funding-to-combat-the-opioid-crisis/. 

[5] “CDC Awards New Funds to Stop Drug Overdoses, Deaths | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0904-stop-drug-overdoses-deaths.html.

[6] “5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis.” HHS.gov. https://plus.google.com/ HHS, n.d. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/hhs-response/index.html.

[7] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Trump Administration Announces $1.8 Billion in Funding to States to Continue Combating Opioid Crisis.” HHS.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services, September 4, 2019. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2019/09/04/trump-administration-announces-1-8-billion-funding-states-combating-opioid.html.

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