public health

Congress Pledges $1 Billion to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic

Photo: John Rensten/Getty Images

Of America’s many national tragedies, the most soul-crushing may be the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control says that since 2000, the country has seen a 137 percent increase in deaths coming from drug overdoses, with a 200 percent spike in opioid-related deaths — the most famous of which came with Prince’s death, last April. The impact has turned political, too: The counties that swung hardest toward Donald Trump had high overdose rates.

But now, with the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress is finally putting some real dough aside to address this most devastating of problems. Vox’s German Lopez reports that it will include $1 billion in grant money to be spent over the next two years. The money will head to states, especially the ones hit hardest by opioids, which the CDC lists as including Maine, New Hampshire, Georgia, and a midwestern stretch from Illinois to Pennsylvania.

The goal is “to fund prescription drug monitoring, increase opioid abuse and overdose prevention training, improve doctors’ prescribing practices, expand access to addiction treatment, and support other public health initiatives related to drug abuse,” Lopez writes.

The Cures Act is a signal that the federal government is finally really seeing drug abuse as a public health, rather than criminal, problem. With that, the routes to combating abuse become clear.

As Yale School of Medicine’s Kathryn Hawk and her colleagues observed in a 2015 review, the way forward is clear: prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. Addiction is a disease, overdose is a result of that disease — and Washington is, at least for now, seeing it that way.

Congress Pledges a Billion to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic