Obama Administration Focuses on Fight to End Opioid Abuse

Money does not cure drug addiction. But it can be an essential weapon in the fight.

Recognizing this reality, U.S. President Barack Obama has called for more than $1 billion of new government funding to be dedicated to the battle against one of the nation’s most pernicious drug abuse problems, the ongoing opioid epidemic. The president has also made several appearances to raise awareness about the scope of the problem and to highlight efforts that his administration and others are undertaking to develop and implement solutions.

According to information on the White House website, the president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 includes the following entries to help reduce rates of substance abuse and addiction involving prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids:

  • $920 million to support cooperative agreements with States to expand access to medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders.
  • $50 million in funding to the National Health Service Corps that will expand access to substance use treatment providers.
  • $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs that employ medication assisted treatment to help identify opportunities to improve treatment for patients with opioid use disorders.

The 2017 budget also includes more than $90 million in new spending to get more people into medication-assisted treatment programs, expand efforts at the state level to prevent prescription drug overdose, support opioid-related law enforcement activities, and increase access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

These spending proposals, which were announced in February 2016, are just one part of the Obama administration’s effort to stem the rising tide of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose.

In March 2016, while appearing at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, the president announced three additional actions:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may double the number of patients who are permitted to receive buprenorphine, a prescription medication that prevents drug cravings and other opioid withdrawal symptoms. Currently, physicians are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine to more than 100 patients.
  • HSS has $94 million in new funding to community health centers that provide medication assisted opioid addiction treatment services in underserved communities.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released an additional $11 million to expand medication-assisted treatment services at the state level, and will be coordinating efforts by certain states to qualify more physicians to prescribe buprenorphine.

On May 14, the president’s weekly online video address to the nation featured rapper Macklemore, who spoke about his previous struggles with opioid abuse and the need for expanded access to treatment.

“I’m here with President Obama because I take this personally. I have abused prescription drugs and battled addiction,” Macklemore said at the beginning of the video. “If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed when I needed it, I might not be here today. And I want to help others [who are] facing the same challenges I did.”

The president, who noted in the video that the annual number of opioid-related deaths in the United States has increased by more than 300% in the past 15 years, called attention to the role that prescription painkiller abuse has played in this ongoing problem.

“Addiction doesn’t always start in some dark alley. It often starts in a medicine cabinet,” he said. “In fact, a new study released this month found that 44 percent of Americans know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.”

An extended version of the conversation between President Obama and Macklemore is slated to be included in an hour-long documentary about opioid abuse and addiction that will be shown on MTV later in 2016.