Obama Budget Tackles Opioid Addiction but Overlooks Prevention

by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

President Barack Obama’s 2017 fiscal year budget reflects the White House’s growing concerns about the abuse and misuse of opioids. The president proposed $1.1 billion in new funding to expand and improve patient access to addiction treatment. To help prevent addiction, however, policymakers must also improve patient access to pain treatment options outside of opioids.

The proposed new funding breaks down as follows:

  • $920 million for states to treat opioid use disorders
  • $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to expand access to substance use treatment providers
  • $30 million to evaluate and improve treatment programs
  • Approximately $90 million (combined with current funding for a total of $500 million) to strengthen enforcement, bolster state overdose prevention activities and improve access to anti-overdose drug naloxene.

Several of the programs include expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for substance addiction.   Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell reportedlyexplained that 2.2 million people need treatment for opioid abuse, but only 1 million get it. The president’s budget also proposes a pilot program through the HHS that would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication commonly used to treat opioid addiction.

The president’s proposed budget takes an aggressive approach to treating addiction, but broader and more comprehensive access policies are required to prevent it in the first place. In particular, access to balanced pain management, including non-opioid treatments, remains a challenge for many patients. In the case of patients undergoing surgery, for example, using multiple modes of pain treatment can reduce the risks associated with opioid-only treatment. Yet hospital formularies often favor generic opioid medications over equally effective alternatives that pose higher up-front costs.

[READ: Multimodal Analgesia: Acute Pain Relief for the Whole Patient]

For chronic pain, nonpharmacological treatments such as occupational or physical therapy can be effective but also hard to access. Patients may discover that their health plans require them to try oral pain medication before proceeding to alternative treatment options.

[READ: Access to Integrated Care for Chronic Pain]

Thus, the president’s funding may significantly help Americans who need treatment for opioid addiction. But until policymakers find a more comprehensive solution for patient access challenges, new cases of addiction will continue to offset the success of recovering patients.

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