White House wants to help states fight heroin, opioid addiction
February 22, 2016 5:11 PM
Narcan Nasal Spray.
By Tracie Mauriello / Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – In Pennsylvania, anyone can walk into a pharmacy without a prescription and walk out with naloxone, a life-saving treatment for heroin overdoses. In Massachusetts, courses on pain management and addiction are now required of all candidates for medical or dental degrees.
The White House wants to help more states fund initiatives like those in order to reverse the trend of heroin and opioid addiction and death.
President Barack Obama’s budget – if passed by Congress – would provide $920 million over two years to support cooperative agreements with states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment. It also would provide $50 million to expand substance abusers’ access to treatment providers and $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment.
The White House on Monday highlighted the work being done in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who were in Washington for the National Governors Association annual meeting, brought their message about drug treatment to the White House, where they spoke with several reporters.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have their own ideas for addressing heroin and opioid addiction. One proposal sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. is among the subjects of a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday.
Mr. Toomey’s plan is focused on stopping pain pills covered by Medicare from being diverted to people for whom they were not prescribed.
Separately, Mr. Toomey is working with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on legislation to provide grants to states for maintaining, improving and expanding prescription drug monitoring programs.
Michael Botticelli, director of Office of National Drug Control Policy, said treatment, not incarceration, is the answer, and the White House wants to help states provide it.
“Every state will receive [some grant funding] but we want to make sure we are getting resources to the states that are significantly impacted,” he said, adding that grants also would be targeted toward states with strong plans.
“We can’t arrest or incarcerate our way out of this problem,” Mr. Botticelli said. “Our jails are full of people that could have been better served by getting them good treatment.”
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf’s focus is on providing a “warm hand-off” to addicts transitioning from emergency care to long-term treatment. He also wants clearer prescribing guidelines and – something Mr. Toomey also advocates – comprehensive prescription tracking to prevent patients from doctor-shopping.
Many states already have such programs but advocates seek a national program that would track prescription purchases across state lines.
Pennsylvania has no system to track opioid prescriptions but is creating one. The goal is to help providers dispense medications safely and to identify patients who may need treatment for addiction. It also will be used as a law-enforcement tool.
Mr. Baker said there’s no one solution to the problem. States have to address prevention, education, intervention, treatment and recovery, he said. Massachusetts is trying, he said. A package of reform measures are now in conference committee. One piece of the proposal would limit the number of pills in initial prescriptions for acute problems.
The debate over addressing heroin addiction often revolves over regulating naloxone, a nasal mist also known as Narcan that quickly reverses the effects of opioids. Some oppose improving access to it because availability gives drug users a false sense of security.
Mr. Wolf dismissed that concern.
“That’s like saying that if there’s a cure for cancer people are going to try to get cancer. People don’t want to be addicts,” he said. “If they’re prone to addictive behavior, this is something that can help.”
But, he and Mr. Baker warned, intervention can’t stop there.
“Law enforcement see this every day,” Mr. Baker said. “For them, the idea of bringing somebody back to life and seeing that person again a week later and doing the exact same thing doesn’t seem like a particularly effective strategy.”
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 703-996-9292, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
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