White House, USDA target opioid abuse
By Daniel Enoch
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2016 - President Obama will join medical professions and law enforcement officers at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta today to announce a series of actions addressing the opioid abuse epidemic in America.
On Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a keynote address at the summit, announcing his plans to travel to New Hampshire, Missouri, Nevada, Mississippi and Appalachia in coming months to participate in town halls. The gatherings will bring together local and state government partners, the health community and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue and discuss possible solutions.
“The opioid epidemic is a fast-growing problem all across America, and we know that rural communities are facing an even higher burden than those in urban areas,” said Vilsack, who was appointed by Obama in January to lead an interagency task force on this specific challenge.
“We've identified ways to use existing resources to help rural towns and organizations address this challenge head-on and potentially save lives, and I look forward to meeting with community leaders to better understand how we can further support their efforts to create healthier, safer futures for families and individuals who may be struggling.”
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, accounted for almost 29,000 deaths in 2014, and rural communities are affected at higher rates than urban communities. This is in part due to a lack of outreach and treatment resources available in rural areas.
In response, Vilsack said USDA is making available $1.4 million through its Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) competitive grants program with the goal of enhancing the quality of life in rural areas through improved health and safety education efforts, including expanding the focus to address the critical challenges of substance abuse. For the first time, USDA is encouraging applicants to develop projects that specifically work to educate the public about opioid abuse and overdose. USDA will also consider projects that target other health outcomes.
Today, Obama is announcing additional public and private sector actions to escalate the fight, including expansion of access to treatment and increasing community prevention strategies. They include:
- A new rule that would increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients. The proposed rule aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and behavioral health supports for tens of thousands of people with opioid use disorders.
- $94 million in new funding for 271 Community Health Centers to increase substance use disorder treatment services, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities. This funding is expected to help health centers treat nearly 124,000 new patients with substance use disorders.
- $11 million in new funding opportunities for up to 11 states to expand their medication-assisted treatment services. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also is distributing 10,000 pocket guides for clinicians that include a checklist for prescribing medication for opioid use disorder treatment and integrating non-pharmacologic therapies into treatment. SAMHSA also will coordinate training sessions to increase the number of doctors qualified to prescribe buprenorphine. The training will be held in targeted states in greatest need.
- The president is directing the creation of an interagency Task Force, to be chaired by the Domestic Policy Council, to advance access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. Federal parity protections are intended to ensure that health plans' coverage of mental health and substance use disorder benefits is comparable to their coverage of medical and surgical benefits.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to strengthen access to mental health and substance use services for people enrolled in Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans by requiring that these benefits be offered at parity, meaning that they be comparable to medical and surgical benefits. These protections are expected to benefit more than 23 million people in Medicaid and CHIP.
- The Office of National Drug Control Policy is expanding its heroin initiative among regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) by adding Ohio and Michigan to the effort. These states will join the Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore HIDTAs in accelerating local partnerships between law enforcement and their counterparts in public health to combat heroin use and overdose.
- The Department of Justice's is announcing a $7 million funding opportunity to advance public safety and to investigate the distribution of heroin, unlawful distribution of prescription opioids and unlawful heroin and prescription opioid traffickers.
- HHS is also issuing guidance for HHS-funded programs regarding the use of federal funds to implement or expand syringe services programs for people who inject drugs. The bipartisan budget agreement signed by the president last year revised a longstanding ban on these programs and allows communities with a demonstrated need to use federal funds for the operational components of syringe services programs.