There is an opioid overdose epidemic in the United States. In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids, and heroin killed more than 18,000 people.1 Why are these numbers reaching epidemic proportions?
Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in our country has increased four-fold.2 Due to this massive increase in the distribution of opioid pain relievers, more people are becoming addicted.
Heroin addiction is on the rise as a result of this over-prescribing as well. When people who have developed a dependency on opioid painkillers can no longer get a prescription, many opt for the cheaper and more readily available alternative of heroin. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people have died from drug overdoses.2
Opioid Addiction Is Treatable
Addiction is a treatable disease. Medications are available to treat heroin and prescription painkiller addiction that reduce drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improving the chances of achieving sobriety. Medication used in combination with behavioral therapy works especially well, offering hope to everyone touched by addiction.
While these programs can help people recover, there hasn’t been enough funding to reach all of those who desperately need help. A new bill enacted in 2016, called the 21st Century Cures Act, aims to reach more people who need treatment, and bring down drug overdose numbers.
The 21st Century Cures Act
In late December 2016, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act after it received overwhelming approval in the U.S. House and Senate. The 996-page bill includes $970 million for opioid prevention and treatment programs, to be distributed across the 50 states over a two-year period.
States Will Receive Targeted Opioid Crisis Grants
Grants funded by the bill take straight aim at the opioid crisis by providing support to states to combat opioid dependence. States receive funds based on how many people are awaiting treatment for opioid use disorders and the number of drug overdose deaths.3
The full range of services that will be funded through these grants, including getting more people into treatment for addiction, hopes to greatly reduce the number of substance use-related deaths.
Along with the significant increase in funding for opioid treatment, the legislation establishes a mental health and substance abuse “policy laboratory.” The purpose of the lab is to advocate for better treatment of these diseases.
The FDA’s drug approval process will be fast-tracked. Also, existing laws requiring insurance companies to cover mental health issues in the same way they do other diseases, were given further support in the bill.
Other programs that will be funded through the law include:
Expansion of community-based outreach programs to defend against drug use before it begins
Empowering healthcare professionals to intervene in the early stages of substance use disorders
Expansion of access to addiction treatment for those in need
Supporting the millions of people in recovery
Developing more extensive drug enforcement
The promise of the legislation is enormous for opioid addiction and mental health treatment funding. The success or failure of the 21st Century Cures Act will depend on how effectively it’s implemented.