WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is trying to rally support for an additional $1.1 billion to deal with America’s rising opioid addiction.
Most of that money included in the president’s budget request would go to cooperative efforts with states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those hooked on opioids. That class of drugs includes prescription painkillers and heroin.
States would receive the money based on the severity of their problem and the strength of their plans to respond.
“We know that we have a significant gap between those who need treatment for opioid use disorders” and those who get it, Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters at a Monday briefing.
Parts of Appalachia and New England have been overwhelmed with an epidemic of abuse. Nebraska and Iowa have not seen the same level of problems, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been immune.
Steven Lukan, director of the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said his state started seeing a rise in opioid problems years ago.
Fatal opioid overdoses reached a level of 77 in 2013. In an encouraging sign, that number dropped to 42 in 2014. Still, Iowa officials aren’t ready to celebrate just yet. It’s too early to tell whether that was a fluke.
Lukan stressed the importance of getting leftover drugs out of medicine cabinets.
Iowa has kiosks across the state where people can drop off leftover drugs and has hosted take-back events. Ten such events over five years collected about 30 tons of medicine.
“There’s just so much supply out there,” Lukan said.
The problem with all that supply is that people get hooked on painkillers by taking leftover medicine from family and friends. In some cases, they run up against the fact that prescription drugs are expensive and ultimately find that it’s easier and cheaper to start using heroin.
Botticelli pointed to the importance of take-back programs and to educating those with the prescription pad. There has been a renewed push to require doctors and dentists to undergo training in pain management and addiction before graduating from school.
Iowa also is one state that has implemented continuing education requirements for doctors to raise their awareness of addiction issues.
Botticelli said those kinds of steps are important, even for states not as affected by the current crisis, so they can get ahead of the problem.
Nebraska already has received a couple of federal grants to help prevent the abuse of prescription drugs, and the Legislature approved a bill last week that would close loopholes in Nebraska’s prescription drug monitoring program.
Iowa is looking to bolster its drug-monitoring program, with legislation intended to make it easier to access.
Those monitoring systems allow physicians to see if someone has been “doctor shopping,” going to multiple providers in search of drugs.
“They can have an intervention at that time and try to counsel you,” Lukan said.