The US Federal Government is Set to Spend $4.6 Billion Dollars Fighting the Opioid Epidemic in 2018. Where Does That Money Go?
In the drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation industry, we take the current opioid crisis very, very seriously. The main objective of any federal program (put simply) should help addicts receive the resources and access to the help they need. It has been estimated by a White House report last fall that the opioid overdose epidemic costs the nation over 500 billion dollars a year when you account for health care costs, criminal justice system spending and the lost productivity within the American economy.
So What is the US Government Doing To Fight Opioid Addiction?
Luckily, fighting the opioid crisis is one issue both Republicans and Democrats handily agree on. As nationwide deaths topped 64,000 in 2016, the federal government along with many state and local municipalities are authorizing funding and passing legislation aimed to combat this epidemic. A major goal for both parties in the house and senate is to accelerate research to find nonaddictive painkillers. Other bills are looking to deal with how doctors prescribe opioids to their patients, while others look to enhance criminal enforcement for drug dealers and addicts. Congress is also looking to fund treatment centers and rehabilitation for addicts seeking recovery. Here, we will look at a few of the laws Congress is currently trying to pass.
Introduced in March of 2017, Jessie’s law is named for an Ann Arbor, Michigan woman who had surgery related to an injury from jogging. Not knowing that she had a previous 10 year struggle with heroin addiction, her doctor prescribed her 50 oxycodone pills as she was discharged from the hospital. Her temptation was too great, and she later died at her home of an overdose that same night. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced Jessie’s Law to the senate in April of 2016. This law would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to establish best practices for hospitals and care providers in identifying those with prior substance abuse habits. This information would be shared as a part of the patient’s medical history much like a known allergy. To this day the bill has passed the House of Representatives but awaits approval of the Senate.
Sober Home Fraud Detection Act
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has recently introduced a bill to the Senate that would allow the federal government regulation authority of residential drug treatment centers for the first time. This bill aims to combat what many in Florida call ‘the Florida shuffle’. A system of perpetual rehab where patients are shuffled around from facility to facility until their insurance benefits run out. This leaves many patients uncured, still struggling with their addiction. Many bad actors exist in the residential treatment industry, halfway houses where continued substance abuse is completely ignored and untreated. Many in the industry are in cahoots, milking insurance benefits from unsuspecting patients by issuing excessive drug tests that cost the patient’s insurance thousands of dollars each time, and referring them to different facilities with little results. In combating this major problem, senate bill 2828 looks for the Department of Health and Human Services to identify:
- (A) unusual billing practices;
- (B) average lengths of patient stays that are longer than the norm;
- (C) excessive levels of drug testing (in terms of cost or volume);
- (D) unusually high levels of recidivism;
- (E) if the recovery housing operator is located in a geographic area identified by the Secretary as having a high level of health care fraud; and
- (F) any other factors identified by the Secretary.
Facilities targeted by this legislation are deemed ‘flop houses’ where drug use and even human trafficking are rampant. Using this bill to identify fraudulent substance abuse treatment schemes, information gathered would be shared with insurance companies as a basis for denial of payment. Some believe targeting these types of corrupt treatment networks would be instrumental in combating the opioid epidemic. This would ideally take resources away from centers and organizations that take advantage of people at their weakest and steer them towards evidence-based treatment facilities with proven results.
Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act
Targeting the greater Appalachian region, this bill hopes to offer funding and resources to one of the areas most impacted by the opioid epidemic. Introduced in the House of Representatives by Lou Barletta (R-PA) in March of 2018, the act proposes to:
- facilitate the sharing of best practices among states, counties, and other experts in the region with respect to reducing drug abuse;
- initiate or expand programs designed to eliminate or reduce the harm to the workforce and economic growth of the region that results from drug abuse;
- attract and retain relevant health care services, businesses, and workers; and
- develop relevant infrastructure, including broadband infrastructure that supports the use of telemedicine.
This specific legislation would empower the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an inter-agency coalition of federal, state and local governments, to share best practices, enter contracts with providers and invest towards goals aimed at reducing substance abuse. The act clearly allocates 5 million dollars to create and retain a network of health care providers, workers and infrastructure to combat this growing crisis.
Critics Welcome These Efforts, But Many Hope More Can be Done.
Spending 4.6 billion dollars sounds like a huge initiative, that means we should start seeing the end of the opioid epidemic soon, right? Sadly, throwing money at a problem while helpful and well-intentioned, does not completely fix it. To put this in perspective, the US Federal Government funding for HIV/AIDS has risen to 26 billion dollars per year. This, for a disease that’s peak was in 1995 with 50,877 deaths in the US. Compare that to the 64,000 that died last year from opioid overdose alone and you can see we are falling far short in addressing the actual needs of American citizens.
Many argue for the need of legislation and programs that add incentives to reward recovery centers that verifiably help drug addicts become clean and enacting new standards for sober homes that would allow local law enforcement to police them. Others argue for expanding the jurisdiction of federal authorities to go after kickback referral services and combating marketing fraud by companies who use deceptive practices to lure patients into a revolving door rehabilitation system that was never designed to help people attain sobriety.
More than 50 bills are currently in the works in Congress, and we will be closely watching developments as they occur.
If you, a family member, or loved one needs help with their addiction to opioids, let us help you.