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Stakeholders Unite: How to Spend Dollars to Curb the Opioid Epidemic

“We have to do something about it,” said President Trump in reference to the opioid epidemic during his State of the Union address two weeks ago. Since then, specific strategies have not been communicated nor implemented. That’s why, earlier this week, the New York Times gathered 30 experts to “think big, but realistically,” about solutions surrounding the opioid epidemic. Today, they released the results of that discussion (“How a Police Chief, a Governor and a Sociologist Would Spend $100 Billion to Solve the Opioid Crisis,” The New York Times, February 14, 2018).

A panel of public health officials, policy experts, law enforcement officers and a sociologist were asked to answer the question: If you had $100 billion to spend, where exactly would that money go? Here is an overview of how they responded:

  1. 47% would go to treatment. This includes things like medication-assisted treatment (MAT), Medicaid, treatment for people who are incarcerated, etc.
  2. 27% would go to demand. This includes things like community development, post-incarceration support, education, etc.
  3. 15% would go to harm reduction. This includes things like naloxone, surveillance, HIV/hepatitis treatment, etc.
  4. 11% would go to supply. This includes things like prescription monitoring and reducing diversion.

In summary, treatment programs were the top priority for more than 20 of the experts; well over two-thirds of the panel wanted to see more collaboration between public health officials and law enforcement; and everyone agreed upon at last some money being allocated to addiction treatment in prisons and jails.

One of the larger issues up for debate was whether to focus on treating addiction or preventing it from manifesting in the first place. Do we increase funding that allows easier access and administration of medications like naloxone and buprenorphine? Or do we begin by addressing the underlying social issues that fuel opioid addiction like health and wealth disparities?

The solution to the opioid epidemic will not be simple and will involve more than just spending and allocation of funds. Many of the panelists proposed that some of the most significant changes will instead come from cultural shifts like reducing the stigma of addiction and changing how we think about pain and dependency. Changes in federal law, including increasing addiction training for physicians and removing federal restrictions of prescribing MAT, will also be crucial in curbing the crisis.

While we await to see how the $6 billion dollars dedicated to the opioid epidemic included in last week’s budget will be spent, we can all begin to make a difference by learning and spreading necessary information to better understand this problem. For more information and ways to help, join our #BeTheDifference Twitter chat on the opioid epidemic on Thursday, February 22 from 2-3 p.m. ET.

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