$1.1 billion needed to fight opioid addiction – White House

© Jose Luis Gonzalez
President Barack Obama is seeking $1.1 billion in new funding to address opioid abuse and a heroin epidemic that has surged in states across America, the White House announced on Tuesday.

The administration will ask for the increase in spending to be spread over two years to expand access to treatment. The proposal, which the president will unveil in his budget recommendations next week, will be a significant boost in federal spending to battle the heroin addiction epidemic. The government is already spending $127 million on treatment programs this year.

If approved, the funding will help “ensure Americans who want treatment can get the help they need,” said the White House.

More than 28,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 – more than fatalities that occurred in motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The majority of the new money, about $920 million, would be for states to increase medication-assisted treatment, and therapy. For drug overdose prevention strategies, Obama is seeking $500 million in each of the next two years, an increase of $90 million on the current budget, to improve state and local government access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and to support targeted enforcement activities.

“A portion of this funding is directed specifically to rural areas, where rates of overdose and opioid use are particularly high,” said the White House in a statement.

There is bipartisan interest in Congress for the federal government to address the heroin epidemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the Associated Press that she hears from both Republicans and Democrats about the problem.

"This is about ... making progress on problems that are front and center in many of the communities they (represent)," Burwell said. "I have talked to members when they have been at home and they are looking at the number of overdoses in their communities in a given weekend."

The new funding would require approval from Congress, but officials expressed optimism.

“We have a tremendous amount of bipartisan support around this opioid epidemic,” Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has worked in his home state to address the crisis there, and last week told The Hill that he hopes to move legislation by the end of the year.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is the lead author of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a bill that is focused on making sure that patients get the best, evidence-based treatments. Senate leaders from both parties have expressed interest in passing the legislation.

In December, the CDC said opioids, a class of drugs that include prescription pain medications and heroin, were involved in 28,648 deaths in 2014. In particular, the CDC found a continued sharp increase in heroin-involved deaths, and an emerging increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.