The White House on Friday announced $1.5 billion in funding to tackle the nation’s opioid epidemic, a major public health crisis that reached record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, exacts an enormous economic and human toll across the country and continues to worsen despite the efforts of activists, government and health care providers.
The White House said the funding is designed to help states, tribal lands, and territories tackle the “devastating” overdose epidemic and to “support individuals in recovery.”
The funds, delivered through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, will help boost access to anti-overdose medications like naloxone, which quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdose and save lives.
It will also help states expand access to recovery support services and treatment for substance use disorder, the White House said.
The White House also announced additional funding for law enforcement agencies working “on the front lines of the overdose epidemic” and plans for the Treasury to use sanctions against global drug trafficking operations.
The $12 million allocated to law enforcement agencies, which adds to $275 million of funding announced in April, will help officials prevent overdoses, take down trafficking operations and tackle violent crime associated with drugs, the White House said.
What To Watch For
The 2023 budget. President Joe Biden has said tackling the opioid epidemic is one of his administration’s most urgent priorities. His budget request for 2023 calls for $42.5 billion in funding for the National Drug Control Program agencies, up $3.2 billion from the year before.
109,000. That’s around how many people are believed to have died of a drug overdose last year, according to CDC data. The figure, up nearly 15% from 2020, marks the first time overdose deaths have topped 100,000 in a calendar year. For a single 12-month period, that grim milestone was first reached during the period ending April 2021. Since then, the number of overdose deaths has not fallen below 100,00 for a 12-month period.
Drug overdose deaths have soared to record levels in recent years, which health officials say has been driven by the rising use of synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl. There is no singular cause driving the crisis, experts say, pointing to system-wide failures across health, policing, social support and regulation. Deaths have come in three distinct waves, which have respectively been linked to use of prescription opioids like OxyContin, street drugs like heroin and synthetic drugs like fentanyl. Synthetic drugs, which are made in a lab and can look identical to other drugs purchased on the street, are especially dangerous due to their potency and the fact they are often used to lace other drugs, which can make it easier to inadvertently take a lethal dose. Beyond the tragic death toll associated with opioids, millions of people are affected in other ways like homelessness, substance use disorders and joblessness. The economic cost is enormous, which Forbes estimates at $1.3 trillion a year.
The Food and Drug Administration stepped up harm reduction efforts on Thursday and released new guidance aimed at boosting access to naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan. The agency said it considers combatting the overdose epidemic “an urgent health priority” and would not enforce product verification and tracing policies that hamper access to the life-saving treatment.