U.S. could increase funding for opioid abuse treatment

 

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As the end of the year approaches, so do lawmakers’ deadline for budget decisions. Health care facilities and organizations could see increased funding next budget cycle, earmarked for opioid abuse treatment.

The president’s budget proposal asks Congress to appropriate $1.1 billion additional dollars to expand access to treatment for prescription opioid drugs and heroin abuse — two drugs Capt. Shawn Collie, commander for the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force, said are linked.

Most of the Drug Strike Force’s current caseload is related to meth, prescription pills and heroin. Area law enforcement has seen a rise in opioid abuse the past year, Collie added.

“That’s probably one of the higher types of drug cases we work anymore,” he said. “Everything is always changing and evolving.”

It can be a challenge for law enforcement to determine when there is an abuse since the drugs have a legal use, Collie said. The Drug Strike Force, he said, encounters people who “doctor shop,” patients who visit multiple doctors to receive several prescriptions.

From pills to heroin

In Buchanan County, Collie said opioid abuse can lead to heroin abuse. After someone becomes addicted to prescription drugs but can no longer doctor shop, they often turn to the streets to get their drugs. On the street, however, heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs so many switch to it, Collie said.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that same trend is true nationwide. And, he added, it can be more difficult to get money for substance abuse treatment compared to funding for other diseases.

“What we need to be able to do in this administration and future administrations and at the state and local level is debunk the notion that this is a choice that people make and that they can easily unmake and have it recognized for the disease that it is,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said people tend to stereotype and lack sympathy for those struggling with addiction rather than viewing it as a disease. Treating opioid abuse is a complex issue, he said.

“You have to train your mind to think differently. It’s a disease. You have to cope with it and deal with it,” Vilsack said. “It does take time in an inpatient circumstance and then it does take time with guidance and consulting. And then it takes a little time with a supportive community.”

A rural epidemic

Hospitalization for opioid overuse in Missouri rose 137 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to the Hospital Industry Data Institute’s analysis. The Midwest, according to that group’s 2015 report, has seen the largest increases in hospitalizations for opioid abuse per year.

Vilsack described the opioid epidemic as a high priority for the president. He said increased funding would focus on infrastructure, especially for rural areas.

“I’m particularly interested in this because of its impact on rural Missouri and rural America,” Vilsack said.

Not many behavioral service centers, which provide treatment, are located in rural areas, he said adding that the president’s budget proposal could change that.

The president’s proposed budget, according to a White House media release, calls for $920 million specifically to help states expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls an epidemic.

The amount of funding each state would receive under that budget would be based on the severity of the issue in that state and the state’s strategy to respond to those issues.

Vilsack said doctors and physicians currently in the field need to be retrained on how to more appropriately prescribe the medication, the next generation of doctors need to be made knowledgeable of other ways to manage pain that don’t rely on opioids, and states need to help treat those who suffer from opioid abuse.

49 out of 50

Opioid abuse costs the U.S. lives and has a negative impact on the economy, Vilsack said. Forty-nine states have implemented a prescription drug monitoring program, aiming to track the prescriptions patients fill and detect potential abuse.

Since Missouri is the only state without a monitoring program, Collie said law enforcement often sees people travel to the state with their prescriptions.

“We’re seeing people come to our jurisdiction with multiple scripts,” Collie said. “We’re having people come from such a distance.”

Vilsack said Missouri counties and cities have been creating their own monitoring systems, which he said may not be the best route.

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