Guest Commentary

More resources needed to battle the opioid epidemic

Andrew Coop, Ph.D, associate dean of academic affairs and pharmacy professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, holds a container with dosages of a new kind of opioid, one that he says doesn't cause dependence. Drawn on the glass is the chemical structure for UMB24, the new kind of opioid.
Andrew Coop, Ph.D, associate dean of academic affairs and pharmacy professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, holds a container with dosages of a new kind of opioid, one that he says doesn't cause dependence. Drawn on the glass is the chemical structure for UMB24, the new kind of opioid. TNS

In Missouri and across the country, opioid addiction is a fast-growing problem that disproportionately affects rural communities.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show opioids were involved in 28,648 deaths in 2014. As a predominately rural state, Missouri has been hit hard by this epidemic.

In Missouri alone, 1,067 people died of drug overdoses in 2014. Many others have been directly affected by a loved one’s addiction. A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 44 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription pain medication.

This is a health crisis, and it is going to take serious action from all levels of government, the health community, law enforcement and other stakeholders to turn those numbers around.

At the federal level, President Barack Obama organized an interagency effort focused on heroin and prescription opioids in rural America. The Obama administration has been promoting strategies including evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, and access to medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Federal agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are putting existing programs on this effort.

Turning the tide of the opioid epidemic requires real resources to help those Americans seeking treatment get the care that they need. It’s encouraging that Congress has recently passed legislation in response to this crisis — including language to open up federal grants to county and local prescription drug monitoring programs being pursued in Missouri in the absence of the state Legislature’s action to set up a statewide monitoring program.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress blocked an attempt to add much-needed funding to the bill to expand critical treatment resources. Congress’ job is not done until it provides the funds communities need to combat the opioid crisis. The president’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposes $1.1 billion in funding to ensure treatment for opioid use disorder is available to all who seek it.

The president’s budget includes funding to build on federal efforts to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs and overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities. Under Obama’s budget proposal, Missouri could receive up to $17 million over two years to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorders.

This funding would go a long way to increase treatment capacity and make services more affordable for the thousands of people in Missouri who are suffering from opioid addiction and want to recover. It’s estimated that we lose 78 people each day to this disease. And every day Congress neglects to fund this effort, the death toll rises.

In order to expand access to treatment and prevention resources, it’s up to Congress to put real muscle behind this fight. By making real investments, expanding strategies that we know work, and mobilizing partnerships at every level across the country, we can turn the tide of this epidemic and save lives.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture, chair of the White House Rural Council and leader of President Obama’s rural opioid initiative. Sen. Claire McCaskill represents Missouri. She lives in St. Louis.

  Comments