Feds Award $94M in Grants to Fight Opioid, Heroin Abuse

HHS Sylvia Mathews Burwell has made fighting opioid and heroin abuse a priority and has talked about the effects of addiction on her home state of West Virginia.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell today announced $94 million in grants to fight opioid abuse, which will go to 271 health centers to combat an epidemic that has no part of the country untouched.

Grants will reach 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto, with a focus on treating opioid use disorders in underserved populations. Funds for the program come from the Affordable Care Act, according to a statement from HHS.

About 4.5 million people used prescription pain medication for non-medical reasons in 2013, and an estimated 289,000 used heroin. CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, has called the 2 “chemical cousins” and is among the many experts who note the rise in opioid abuse tracks the broader availability of OxyContin in the mid-1990s.

A common trajectory is a tale of the patient who starts taking pain medication after an injury, becomes addicted, and then turns to heroin as a cheaper alternative when the prescription drug is no longer available for affordable. In July 2015, CDC released data showing that the number of heroin deaths had quadrupled in a decade.

Burwell has taken the opioid and heroin cause to heart given its devastating effects on her home state of West Virginia. She discussed this when she first unveiled plans to make up to $100 million in new funds available to fight addiction while speaking to a meeting of the National Governors’ Association, which met in West Virginia last July.

“The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States today,” Burwell said in a statement from HHS. “Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and integrating these services in health centers bolsters nationwide efforts to curb opioid misuse and abuse, supports approximately 124,000 new patients accessing substance use treatment for recovery and helps save lives.”

Grants, which range from around $200,000 to more than $400,000, will be administered through the Administered by the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Health centers will use funds to increase the number of patients who can be screened for disorders and linked to treatment services. Funds will also be used to train prescribers to make more informed decisions. The funds should allow health to treat nearly 124,000 new patients, in addition those they are already seeing.

For a list of centers that received funds, click here.