The head of the federal Department of Health and Human Services said today that the opioid crisis in America "is a scourge that knows no bounds" and will require more money and attention to reverse.
But after touring a CADAS drug treatment facility, Dr. Tom Price, secretary of HHS in the Trump administration, said money alone won't solve the epidemic that claimed more than 52,000 Americans in 2015, including nearly 1,500 lives in Tennessee, in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available.
"The conversation that is going on right now in the United States Senate as it relates to health reform and moving in a better direction is to provide more resources for the opioid crisis," Price said during his Chattanooga visit. "Resources are absolutely imperative for solving this issue, but they are not the only thing. We want to make sure that the monies we provide are used in a way that makes sure that the greatest number of individuals realize recovery and move into an addiction recovery."
The amount of funding for drug treatment and control was one of the sticking points for moderate GOP senators in the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare.
The U.S. Senate's recently released health care bill designates $2 billion for fiscal year 2018 to provide grants to states for support, treatment and recovery services for people with mental or substance abuse disorders. The 142-page bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act contained a single mention of the opioid crisis on page 133, and does not reference continuing these funds in future years.
The Affordable Care Act and the expanded Medicaid program includes substance use disorder as one of the services that must be provided to individuals. The Congressional Budget office estimates Obamcare helped an estimated 26 million people get health care coverage through the marketplaces or Medicaid that includes substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and prevention. Additional people enrolled in new individual market or small group market plans outside the marketplace also now have such drug treatment covered because most individual and small employer insurance plans can no longer exclude SUD treatment.
U.S. Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, whose states are among those hardest hit by the Opioid epidemic, – said they might not vote for the healthcare reform plan unless more money was dedicated to solving the problem.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to sweeten the pot by increasing funding to $45 billion after the original version of the bill only allocated $2 billion
The Cure's bill adopted by Congress last year will provide Tennessee another $13.8 million in the new fiscal year that began Friday for drug treatment and recovery programs. President Trump also has appointed a White House commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to examine the drug addition problem across the country.
Price said dealing with the opioid problem in all of its forms is one of the top three priorities of his office.
Price toured the North Shore clinic operated by CADAS, or the Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services, today as part of a listening tour along with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, among others.
"We're facing a non-partisan issue that is in desperate need of a bi-partisan solutions," Conway said. "In Washington, we believe those who are closes to the situation know best how to deal with a problem and allocate resources."
Gov. Haslam said drug addiction is a barrier to economic growth, educational attainment and the overall health of Tennessee.
Tennessee has the second-highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the country — nearly 5 percent of residents are addicted to opiates.
CADAS is one of the few nonprofit alcohol and drug treatment facilities in Tennessee that provide a continuum of care from residential to outpatient services for both adolescents and adults. CADAS is one of the agencies that should get additional funding from the Cure's Act.
The annual cost of the epidemic is estimated to be $78.5 billion.