Focus On Opioids Leaves States Struggling To Find Money To Treat Other Addictions

By Kelly Burch 06/19/19

Restricting funds to covering opioid-related treatments mean that some treatments will become more easily accessible while others remain hard to come by.

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federal worker looking for money to treat other addictions

Although the phrase “opioid epidemic” has become mainstream, experts on substance use disorder say that the country’s drug problem is about more than just opioids, and states are struggling to adequately address that with federal funds that have been earmarked specifically for opioid-related interventions. 

"Even just the moniker — 'the opioid epidemic' — out of the gate, is problematic and incorrect,” Northeastern University professor Leo Beletsky, who teaches law and health sciences, told NPR. "This was never just about opioids."

Still, much of the $2.4 billion that the federal government has sent to states since 2017 has come in the form of grants that require states specifically address opioid use. Even the names of the federal grant programs make show their focus on opioids: the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis and State Opioid Response are two major sources of funding. 

That has left people like David Crowe looking for other options for funding to do more comprehensive drug use prevention. Crowe is the executive director of Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Executive Commission in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. He says that opioids are a major factor there, but so is methamphetamine, and he needs funds to address that as well. 

"Now I'm looking for something different. I don't need more opiate money. I need money that will not be used exclusively for opioids,” he said. 

Opioids remain a prevalent problem, but in 11 states that class of drugs were responsible for less than half of opioid overdose deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Restricting funds to covering opioid-related treatments mean that some treatments will become more easily accessible — like medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. Yet, interventions for other drugs, like methamphetamines, might continue to be hard to come by. 

This is especially concerning since use of specific drugs tends to come and go, while pervasive drug use continues nationally, said Bertha Madras, a professor at Harvard Medical School and former member of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

"I think we have to really begin to self-examine why this country has so much substance use to begin with,” she said. 

Still, proponents of the programs say that even opioid-targeted funds can help address gaps in the treatment of mental illness and addiction. Those gaps contribute to the use of all drugs, including opioids, according to Marlies Perez, a division chief at the California Department of Health Care Services. 

"This funding is dedicated to opioids, but we're not blindly just building a system dedicated just to opioids,” Perez said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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