My Turn: Trump is making progress on the opioid crisis

For the Monitor
Published: 10/7/2019 7:00:10 AM

Since President Donald Trump’s first day in office, and from my first day as his health secretary, our country’s opioid crisis has been one of our most challenging missions.

Today, thanks to President Trump’s leadership and the hard work of so many, there are signs that we are beginning to turn the tide. Provisional data shows total drug overdose deaths in the U.S. dropped 5% from 2017 to 2018 – the first drop in more than two decades.

But we are still far from declaring victory. Deaths from drug overdoses remain at historically high levels, and the Trump administration is keeping up this fight. Last month, the administration announced almost $3 billion in new grants to state and local governments, academic institutions and private companies, including over $8.4 million to New Hampshire.

With the State Opioid Response program, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides flexible funding to state governments to support prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid use disorder. This program is focused on providing evidence-based treatment, including the gold standard for treating opioid addiction – medication-assisted treatment.

Progress in this regard is real: We estimate that approximately 1.27 million Americans now receive medication-assisted treatment – up from 921,000 in 2016 – out of about 2 million Americans with opioid use disorder.

To advance our understanding of the epidemic and scale-up prevention and response activities, the CDC has the Overdose Data to Action program. They help state and local governments track overdose data as closely to real time as possible and support work to prevent overdoses and save lives.

Finally, the National Institutes of Health has awarded $945 million in fiscal year 2019 for grants across 41 states through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative or NIH HEAL Initiative. This research effort aims to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

September’s grants come on top of nearly $400 million in grants issued in August from the Health Resources and Services Agency to community health centers, rural organizations, and academic institutions to help them establish and expand access to services for opioid addiction and other challenges.

In total, during the Trump administration, HHS has disbursed almost $9 billion to states and local communities to help increase access to treatment and prevention services. But defeating addiction takes more than money. It requires building a health care system that cares for each patient, as a whole person, and works to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction. That’s one of the reasons why the Trump administration proposed to modernize regulations that can pose significant barriers to effective, coordinated care Americans struggling with addiction need.

We have also issued Medicaid waivers to 25 states to expand access to in-patient treatment for substance use disorder. And we have worked to prevent opioid addiction by promoting responsible prescribing of opioids, yielding a 31% decrease in the total amount prescribed since President Trump took office.

President Trump’s sustained focus on opioid addiction is yielding real results. But this crisis developed over several decades, and will not be solved overnight. As the tide begins to turn on opioid addiction, the president remains committed to helping communities across America continue to battle drug addiction, save lives and help everyone struggling with addiction find the road to recovery.

(Alex M. Azar II is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.)

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