Although we celebrated victory after the White House public health emergency declaration, festivities were short-lived. The rift among advocates began immediately on social media, driven by pathos and politics. Many focused on the President’s off-script remarks about prevention, which were strikingly similar to the failed 80’s “just say no” campaign. Others pointed out that no funding was attached. Our frustration and anger are understandable, given the tremendous human cost we have experienced for decades, all the hard work we’ve put into reform, and the tense political climate of our day.
Some of the Facts
Declaring an emergency under the Public Health Services Act gives the US Secretary of Health and Human Services broad discretion to respond to the opioid epidemic by accessing the Public Health Emergency Fund (approximately only $57K at this time). That means more money for treatment and recovery.
The Secretary can also waive typical Medicare and Medicaid rules such as the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid financing for care provided to most patients in mental health and substance use disorder residential treatment facilities larger than 16 beds. That means more beds.
What can we do?
Replenishing the Public Health Emergency Fund is a congressional responsibility. You may visit www.SENATE.gov and www.HOUSE.gov to obtain contact information for your federal representatives. Appropriately responding to this crisis within the prevention, treatment and recovery continuum requires a large investment. Studies show every dollar spent on substance use disorder treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. Historically, lawmakers may have been reluctant to endorse this expense because the return on investment is not short-term, and the beneficiaries of increased services are traditionally stigmatized individuals. A public health emergency now becomes an opportunity to bypass these former obstacles – to increase capacity and build a sustainable infrastructure that will benefit all people impacted by substance use disorder.
Why should we act?
We are losing 175 fellow community members per day to opioid overdose. That’s the equivalent of three packed public school buses bursting into flames every single day of the year. The Addiction Professionals of North Carolina are not okay with that. We are part of the solution. As NJ Governor Chris Christie, Chair of the President’s Opioid Commission, recently stated, “If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans a day on our soil, we would look into how to make it stop.”