Obama asks for $1.1 billion more to fight opioid epidemic

Faced with a growing trend of heroin and prescription opioid abuse that is now killing more than 28,000 Americans annually, the Obama administration said Tuesday it will seek $1.1 billion in new budget funding over the next two years to fight the epidemic.

That new money would augment the more than $400 million in money already budgeted for this year to battle opioid abuse, which itself was $100 million higher than what was spent in the prior year, federal officials said.

President Barack Obama answers questions from members of the audience during a community forum at the East End Family Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Obama is in Charleston to lead a community discussion on prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP
President Barack Obama answers questions from members of the audience during a community forum at the East End Family Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Obama is in Charleston to lead a community discussion on prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.

"This president has made clear that addressing this opioid epidemic is a priority for him, and this budget reflects this," said Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama. Botticelli said that the additional funding request "underscores the urgency of additional action that we need to take."

Botticelli also cited the fact that "we have a tremendous amount of bi-partisan support around this opioid epidemic" as he expressed optimism that the Republican-controlled Congress would approve boosted funding for that fight.

Drug overdoses now kill more people each year than motor vehicle crashes, the White House noted. And new data reveal that the drugs known as opioids, which include prescription pain-killers and heroin, were involved in 28,648 fatalities in 2014.

In announcing the new funding request, the White House noted that "prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families while straining resources of law enforcement and treatment programs."

Most of the proposed new funding, $920 million, would be earmarked for cooperative agreements the federal government has with individual states to "expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders," the White House said in a statement.

The amount of money states would receive would depend "on the severity of the epidemic" and the strength of a state's strategy to respond to the funding.

"States can use these funds to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable," the White House said.

"Our hope is to get the funding and get this moving as quickly as possible to the states." -Sylvia Burwell, Health and Human Services Secretary

Another $50 million would be for funding of the National Health Services Corps to expand access to substance-abuse treatment providers, according to the White House

And $30 million would be earmarked to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment program that use medication-assisted treatments.

"Our hope is to get the funding and get this moving as quickly as possible to the states," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who noted that her home state of West Virginia had been perhaps the most severely affected by the opioid abuse epidemic.