CDC Awards $20 Million in Grants to Fight Drug Abuse

By Keri Blakinger 09/11/15

Several states have been given money to bolster drug overdose prevention programs.

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This month, the Center for Disease Control announced $20 million in grant awards aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and overdose.

Called “Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States,” the program offers funding to 16 states to help expand their prescription overdose death prevention programs. Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin were the states selected to participate after completing a competitive application process.

After the initial $20 million of funding slated for 2015, the CDC plans to continue giving states between $750,000 and $1 million a year over the next four years.

A major thrust of the funding is improving prescription drug monitoring programs. According to a CDC release, the funding will also go to overdose education, communications campaigns, emerging issues, and working with health-care providers and insurers “to help them make informed decisions about prescribing pain medication."

“The prescription drug overdose epidemic requires a multifaceted approach, and states are key partners in our efforts on the front lines to prevent overdose deaths,” said CDC Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “With this funding, states can improve their ability to track the problem, work with insurers to help providers make informed prescribing decisions, and take action to combat this epidemic.”

According to CDC numbers, prescription opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. have quadrupled since 1999. In the same time period, the amount of opioids prescribed and sold in the U.S. quadrupled, even though the amount of pain Americans are reporting has not changed. There has also been an increase in heroin overdose deaths, the CDC says, noting that between 2010 and 2013 heroin deaths tripled.

“The prescription drug overdose epidemic is tragic and costly, but can be reversed,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Because we can protect people from becoming addicted to opioids, we must take fast action now, with real-time tracking programs, safer prescribing practices, and rapid response. Reversing this epidemic will require programs in all 50 states.”

Although the CDC hails prescription tracking programs as a solution to opioid abuse, some experts have criticized them in the past.

Detective Sgt. John Zeltmann told The Poughkeepsie Journal that, after New York passed a prescription drug tracking measure known as I-STOP (Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act), "[u]sers weren't able to get to the pills any longer so the heroin was the next best substitute.” He added, “It was just an unforeseen circumstance." An Ithaca Voice article in October 2014 featured an interview with a rehab director and came to similar conclusions.

Although the CDC program specifies that the funding can also be used to “investigate the connection between prescription opioid abuse and heroin use,” it doesn’t seem to indicate any possible connection between prescription tracking and heroin use.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.