Bipartisan Group Of Senators Want To Unleash Funds For States Ravaged By Overdoses

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators are pushing legislation that would give targeted federal funding to states with the highest mortality rates from opioids.

The group filed the proposal in Congress Thursday, which would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to changed its policy on how federal funds are allocated to states for addiction treatment.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, both from West Virginia, are joining with Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire in the effort to give states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic greater access to federal funds, reports Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

The legislation would require SAMHSA to distribute funds based on state mortality rates and their access to treatment services, prioritizing the needs of states with highest rates of overdose deaths. Currently, SAMHSA makes these determinations based off state populations.

“The opioid crisis has affected lives and communities across the country, but some states — including West Virginia — have been hit harder than others,” Moore Capito said in a statement Thursday, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that states dealing with the worst of the drug epidemic are receiving an appropriate share of the resources being provided to fight it. By targeting resources to where they’re needed most, we can make our efforts to fight this epidemic more strategic and more effective.”

Drug overdose deaths claimed a record 880 lives in West Virginia in 2016, fueled by the increased prevalence of synthetic opioids in heroin supplies. The biggest increase in deaths were seen among young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. West Virginia is so battered by the drug crisis that demand for services that transport dead bodies is soaring.

West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources said the state paid out $881,620 in Fiscal Year 2017 to private contractors for body transportation services. The cost is more than double what the state paid to these contractors in 2015, which health officials blame on the explosion of opioid abuse since 2010. The number of bodies transported in FY 2017 rapidly grew over two years, rising from 2,200 in 2015 to roughly 4,200.

President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” on Oct. 26, giving states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts that the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.

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