By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
Last week, the Obama Administration announced that the President is proposing $1.1 billion in new funding to address the prescription opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic that is currently sweeping our nation’s rural and suburban areas. The funds are earmarked to spend $920 million to expand access to medication-assisted treatment efforts, $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to expand access to substance use treatment providers, and $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment programs under real-world conditions.
If I sound dismissive of this effort, it’s because there are some strings attached to this proposal that makes it yet another example of how little people understand the severity of the issue and the difficulties associated with trying to address it in a rural setting. The $920 million will be allocated to states based on the “…severity of the epidemic and on the strength of their strategy to respond to it.”
The last part of that is the kicker – really, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? One of the most difficult barriers to overcome in the hard-hit Appalachian Mountain Region is one of access; there simply are too few places for people with any health condition to turn.
For the past few years, the state of West Virginia has been besieged by budgetary, economic, and employment woes. In a state where the per capita income is $22,966, it’s hardly surprising that financial issues abound. Those issues are further compounded by a dearth of private and public services available across the state. We have food deserts (areas where there are no grocers or markets providing fresh foods), healthcare deserts, utility deserts – if a map of all the available services were created of West Virginia, it would resemble an actual desert, replete with a handful of oases where these services are available.
Despite the state’s efforts to combat a nearly two-decade-long opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic in the state, the fact of the matter is that there just aren’t enough physical resources – literally, buildings in place – with the capacity to serve as treatment hubs. More troubling is a proposal by the current Republican legislature to combine county health departments into nine multi-county districts, essentially forcing residents from dozens of already underserved counties to have to travel even further to get to a single health department facility. The report suggests potential savings of $12.5 million or more to the state…but doesn’t bother to take into account issues of accessibility, affordability, or the impact that this would have on one of the least healthy states in the nation.
While additional funds are always appreciated, if past precedent is indicative of anything in West Virginia, it’s that Federally-allocated, but state-administered funds for state improvements rarely go very far in a state beset by geographic and economic hardships that have been allowed to go unaddressed for decades, intransigence and failure to adapt being the name of the game in the state. How is West Virginia – the state with the highest rate of opioid overdoses in the nation – supposed to compete for these funds when the state’s legislators are actively attempting to cut healthcare costs at the expense of healthcare access? If we are to receive funds based on the strength of our plans to confront this healthcare crisis, how will it look when, rather than expanding access, we are going about shrinking it?
This additional funding proposal has the potential to be a game changer…in states with legislatures who actively seek to expand access. To be honest, I am somewhat concerned by the caveat that these funds are designed to support medication-assisted treatment efforts. Even if they are effective in reducing dependency on opioid drugs, it seems ironic that addiction to one type of drug should be addressed by the use of another type of drug. Perhaps this proposal needs a bit more work, and a lot more focus on proven harm reduction efforts, such a accessible and legal syringe exchange programs, accessible treatment and rehabilitation centers, and more attention paid on the prescribing side of the issue.
Overall, I thank the President for his consideration, and welcome him to expand his thinking to include other types of treatment.
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.