It’s been a while since we updated you on the activities related to fighting opioid addiction — a task Community Health Centers are taking on with vigor and innovation. First, with $500 million in hand to fight the opioid epidemic, White House officials are moving quickly to get that money flowing to the hardest-hit states—and pushing local officials to spend the new dollars on treatment above other addiction-related initiatives. Earlier this week the President signed into law “The 21st Century Cures Act,” sweeping legislation that packages together various health policy provisions related to cancer research and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for medications (including several provisions that are helpful to health centers that you can read about in more detail in this press release). But the law also funds mental health services and efforts to fight substance abuse.
The focus on this public health crisis could not come at a more urgent time. As we noted in a previous blog post, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office reports that one in seven people in the United States is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point, but only 1 in 10 will receive treatment. Meanwhile, nearly 80 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. In West Virginia, also known as “ground zero” for the epidemic, the numbers are far more startling. Louise Reese, CEO of the West Virginia Primary Care Association, recently described it this way in an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail:
“A high unemployment rate, a disproportionate share of manual labor jobs with high injury rates — in addition to aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies — all have contributed to our state’s vulnerability. We have paid dearly. West Virginia claims 32 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, nearly triple the national average in 2015.”
Reese goes on to describe efforts the state’s health centers are launching in collaboration with local partners to address every aspect of the crisis, including its direct impact on families and children.
“Health centers are forging partnerships with state and local organizations, schools, churches, the mental health community, pharmacies and law enforcement because we recognize we can all be more effective when we work together. We are developing approaches aimed at helping families and children affected by addiction. A case in point is Handle with Care, a program implemented by the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice, to support children in school who have experienced a traumatic event. West Virginia health centers operate 143 school-based health centers and are in a position to support this program with additional behavioral health services. Health center providers will be participating in an interactive web-based system called Project Echo to receive consultation from specialists on evidence-based treatments for chronic pain management and opioid addiction.”
You can also listen to our podcast on opioid addiction, featuring Reese and journalist/author Sam Quinones by visiting this link.