On Wednesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price announced Florida will be getting $27 million to fight opioid addiction.
The funds represent the first round of money under the 21st Century Cures Act and will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Altogether, the federal government is sending $485 million to the states, the District of Columbia and American territories. According to HHS, “funding will support a comprehensive array of prevention, treatment, and recovery services depending on the needs of recipients.”
Price sent a letter to the governors on Wednesday, stressing the high stakes involved.
“As I begin my tenure as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), I do so with a profound commitment to addressing this public health crisis as one of our top three departmental priorities,” Price wrote. “Opioids were responsible for over 33,000 deaths in 2015; this alarming statistic is unacceptable to me. We cannot continue to lose our nation’s citizens to addiction. Through a sustained focus on people, patients, and partnerships, I am confident that together we can turn the tide on this public health crisis.
“President Trump recently announced the president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis,” Price added. “This commission is tasked with studying the scope and effectiveness of the federal response to this crisis and providing recommendations to the president for improving it. HHS is uniquely positioned to contribute in this important effort as a key agency providing critical resources for care and treatment.”
Price also had instructions for the governors for the federal funds as HHS looks ahead to the second round of funds.
“These grants aim to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet need, and reduce overdose related deaths,” Price wrote. “I understand the urgency of this funding; however, I also want to ensure the resources and policies are properly aligned with and remain responsive to this evolving epidemic. Therefore, while I am releasing the funding for the first year immediately, my intention for the second year is to develop funding allocations and policies that are the most clinically sound, effective and efficient. To that end, in the coming weeks and months, I will seek your assistance to identify best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that produce measurable results. Thank you for your collaboration and partnership as we move forward in this critical work together to help the millions of Americans hurt by this public health crisis.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., applauded the funds on Wednesday, noting that he is hearing more concerns about the opioid epidemic from across the Sunshine State.
“In just the last week I’ve met and talked with local officials and members of law enforcement in West Palm Beach, Pensacola, and Jacksonville about how the opioid epidemic is ravaging Florida’s communities,” Rubio said. “It’s clear that we must do more to make sure people seeking help are able to get the treatment they need. I’m glad Secretary Price is taking this problem seriously, and that Florida will have these additional resources to combat the dangerous drugs that are destroying so many lives.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wrote Price on the opioid crisis, sending a letter to him on Tuesday.
“I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that is devastating Florida and encourage your agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States,” Nelson wrote Price. “Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014.
“The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015,” Nelson added. “In addition to the devastating loss of life, heroin and opioid abuse is also straining local budgets. In February, the Vice-Mayor of Palm Beach County sent a letter to the Governor of Florida urging him to declare a public health emergency, citing the loss of life and financial impact to the County. According to the County medical examiner’s office, nearly 600 people died of opioid overdose in Palm Beach County alone last year – nearly twice as many as in 2015.
“In 2016, Congress approved legislation to take a comprehensive approach to opioid abuse, and a few months ago, we approved additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law right away,” Nelson continued before going to bat for Medicaid expansion, insisting those funds could help the battle with opioids. “Given that opioid abuse is a growing problem across the nation, and especially in Florida, I would appreciate your response to the following: As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders. Do you support these cuts to the Medicaid program through block grants, caps, or other proposals? If those cuts are made, how do you propose states like Florida provide the necessary services to help individuals with substance use disorder?
"Thirty-one states have already expanded their Medicaid program to cover individuals with annual incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $30,000 for a family of three)," Nelson wrote. "Unfortunately, Florida has decided not to expand its Medicaid program, leaving more than 800,000 Floridians without access to affordable health care, including an estimated 309,000 low-income Floridians with mental health and substance use disorders. According to a study by Harvard University and New York University, Medicaid expansion provides drug treatment to nearly 1.3 million Americans. If Florida expanded its Medicaid program, would it be able to increase access to treatment for those with opioid use disorder? And would expanding Medicaid help the state avoid the rising costs associated with the opioid crisis and mental health needs?”