Healthbeat: Evaluating Spending to Combat U.S. Opioid Crisis

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — In just the past few years, the federal government has invested billions of dollars to combat opioid abuse through prevention, treatment and recovery.

A new report released Wednesday looks into how the investment is working. The report tracks all federal funding for fiscal year 2019 appropriated to Pennsylvania and the rest of the country to combat opioid abuse. It comes away with some key takeaways to make that spending more effective in the future.

The Bipartisan Policy Center report is stunning in its findings. It reveals overdose death rates are rising and worsened by the pandemic, that federal funding to states is neither meeting the need nor properly evaluated, and that treatment remains out of reach for the vast majority of people with substance use disorders.

“It’s really painting a picture for the nation and Pennsylvania as well specifically that we need constant vigilance that this is a public health challenge that hasn’t gone anywhere,” Dr. Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Advisor, Bipartisan Policy Center, said.

The report shows Pennsylvania received nearly $285 million of the $7.6 billion in federal funding for fiscal year 2019 to combat the opioid crisis. But Dr. Parekh says only a fraction of individuals with opioid use disorder got the gold standard, medication-assisted treatment they need.

“We need to focus on communities of color given increasing rates. The report also mentions that states need to focus on at-risk populations. Pennsylvania is doing this. They need to do more of this,” Dr. Parekh said.

Post-partum women and paroled convicts are part of that at-risk population. Dr. Parekh blames illicit fentanyl with driving the opioid crisis which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Pennsylvanians. But the report cites another problem: stigma.

“Sadly, it’s one of the largest roadblocks to treatment for those struggling with substance use disorder,” Governor Tom Wolf said.

Just this week, Pennsylvania launched a $1.9 million anti-stigma program called “Life Unites Us” to share stories on social media of families who fought addiction.

“There’s still too much stigma around this topic, around this issue. We need to help our friends, our families.” Dr. Parekh said.

To read the report, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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