President Barack Obama called Tuesday for $1.1 billion in new federal money to combat the growing abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers in the U.S.
The president’s 2017 budget proposal will include $1 billion in mandatory funding over two years to increase addiction treatment for heroin and prescription opioids and to make the services more affordable.
Most of the proposed new money – $920 million – would fund cooperative agreements with states to provide more drug-based treatment for people addicted to painkilling opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet, hydrocodone and morphine.
The money would be allocated based on the severity of a state’s problem and its strategy to address the issue.
While Florida isn’t considered a state with a serious heroin-addiction rate, the Manatee and Sarasota county areas saw heroin overdose deaths double to more than 150 in 2015, compared with 63 in 2014 and just 19 in 2013.
Officials say Manatee County’s heroin epidemic began in spring 2014, when police began seeing greater use of fentanyl, an opioid pain reliever 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Research has found that 3 out of 4 new heroin users reported abusing prescription opioid pain relievers before turning to heroin.
Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Bradenton, Florida, said he supported Obama’s proposal.
“This is a problem destroying lives and families across America that needs to be addressed,” Buchanan said in an email statement. “I strongly support efforts to fight the heroin and drug abuse epidemic in this country and look forward to reviewing the president’s proposal.”
Obama’s proposal would also use $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to expand services at roughly 700 drug treatment facilities, including those in areas with a shortage of behavioral health providers.
Another $30 million would go to evaluate drug treatment programs that provide medication-assisted treatment services.
Obama’s proposal also calls for the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to get roughly $500 million – an increase of more than $90 million from 2014 – to help expand overdose prevention efforts, provide more medication-assisted treatment for addicts and improve access to naloxone, an emergency-use drug that reverses overdoses.
Part of the Justice and HHS funding would target rural areas, where opioid use and overdoses are increasing. The money also would fund an HHS project that allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, an opioid addiction treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
From 2010 to 2012, the death rate from heroin doubled across 28 states that represent 56 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2014 government report.
The increase in heroin overdoses – from 1 per 100,000 deaths to 2.1 per 100,000 deaths during that time – was driven by increasing supplies of the drug and the widespread use of and addiction to prescription opioid pain relievers.
Obama’s plan will be part of his 2017 budget proposal, scheduled to be released next Tuesday.