Deep within President Donald Trump’s plan to combat opioid abuse, overshadowed by his call for the death penalty for some drug traffickers, is a push to expand the use of medication to treat addiction.
It’s a rare instance in which Trump isn’t trying to dismantle Obama administration policies, and where fractious Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together.
Trump declared last month that “we’re making medically assisted treatment more available and affordable,” even as Congress was working to approve $1 billion for a new treatment grant program for opioids as part of the massive government funding bill.
Not to offer such treatment is like “trying to treat an infection without antibiotics,” new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the National Governors Association earlier this year.
Experts have long argued that medication-assisted treatment should be the standard of care for people addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs. But acceptance lags. Cost is a barrier, as are government regulations. Some of the medications are opioids themselves and there’s no consensus on how long patients should remain in treatment.
In its final year, the Obama administration pushed through Congress $1 billion for opioid crisis grants to states. Of that, $500 million was to be released last year and the other $500 million this year. States had to show that their opioid programs are based on clinical evidence, so medication-assisted treatment got a big boost.
The 2018 spending bill provides another $1 billion, and the Trump administration says it will carry even more specific requirements for states to use treatment supported by clinical evidence, including medications.
“The government is talking about treatment and medication-assisted treatment in a way that the government has never done before,” said Tom Hill, vice president of addiction and recovery at the National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for mental health and addiction treatment.
Overdose deaths from heroin, synthetics like fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, reached 42,000 in 2016, according to the latest statistics.