By U.S. Senator Roy Blunt
Just two months before his 30th birthday, St. Louis native and Navy veteran Derek lost his life to a twelve year battle with addiction. Derek graduated from college, earned an MBA, and proudly served our nation, but struggled with an addiction that began after he was prescribed powerful opioids for a football-related injury in high school. His mother, Kelly, is now a powerful voice in the fight against the opioid epidemic, sharing Derek’s story to warn others of the dangers of opioid painkillers.
As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), addressing the opioid epidemic has been a top priority. Recently, President Trump signed the fiscal year 2019 HHS appropriations bill, which provides funding for opioid-related programs – marking a dramatic increase during my four years as chairman. From researching opioid alternatives, to expanding access to treatment and prevention programs, to providing critical services for children, this bill tackles the opioid crisis from every angle.
The bill includes $1.5 billion for state opioid response grants, which provide flexible funding for states to implement programs that best fit their needs. We want states to have innovative solutions to the problem and not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach. What works in Missouri may not work everywhere in the country and what works in St. Louis may not work in St. Joseph. In Missouri, opioid state response grant funding has allowed more than 1,700 people to receive treatment for opioid use disorder, and over 10,000 individuals to receive training on topics across the spectrum of treatment, prevention and recovery.
In addition, there is targeted funding for rural areas, which often lack the same access to health care and support services found in urban or suburban areas. A recent study found that as many as 74 percent of farm families have been directly impacted by the opioid crisis.
Making sure people who are struggling with addiction can access effective treatment – including mental health services – is also essential to addressing this epidemic. To that end, the bill includes a funding increase for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, which provide affordable, high-quality health care services. If you are addressing your behavioral health concerns, you are feeling better, sleeping better, and are more likely to take medications you have for other conditions. In addition, expanding access to behavioral health will reduce the amount of money spent treating other health concerns.
Stemming the number of individuals who become addicted in the first place is another top priority reflected in this bill. That includes improving surveillance to gain a better understanding of where the problems are and where they are most severe, and ensuring the public understands the risks of taking opioids. We also must ensure that physicians have the information they need to understand who may be most at risk before prescribing opioids, and individuals must understand the risks before taking opioids.
Further, our child welfare and foster care systems are being overwhelmed by the opioid crisis as more and more children have to be taken out of the care of parents affected by opioid use. The bill provides resources to help states develop and implement plans of safe care for infants exposed to opioids at birth, and supports prevention and treatment activities for children and families in, or at-risk of entering, the foster care system.
Finally, simply reducing opioid prescriptions does not address the need for effective pain management. If patients with acute or chronic pain do not have reasonable access to non-addictive pain medications or alternative treatments, it will be difficult to solve this crisis. The bill prioritizes research related to opioid addiction, the development of opioid alternatives, pain management, and addiction treatment.
The opioid epidemic has touched people of all ages, from every background, in communities across the nation. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to ensure we’re putting the right amount of resources in the right places to end this public health crisis.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, please contact the Missouri Department of Mental Health (https://dmh.mo.gov/contactus.html) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 24-hour helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for information on how to get quality, affordable treatment services.