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The Obama Administration Takes Actions Against Opioid Epidemic

President Obama has made clear that addressing the shattering heroin and prescription opioid abuse epidemic plaguing the nation is a top priority for his Administration. On June 14, the Office of the Press Secretary released the estimated funding amounts that each state would be eligible for under the President's $1.1 billion budget proposal to extend access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for Americans struggling with an opioid use disorder. The final amount of funding each state could receive depends on the actual severity of the opioid abuse epidemic in the state's communities, the overall strength of state's response strategies as well as Congressional action.

Last week, the White House announced that, as Congress moves to conference on legislation related to this public health crisis, the Obama Administration takes additional actions to strengthen prescription drug monitoring, expand access to MAT and recovery services, accelerate research on pain management, opiate misuse, and better prescribing practices, as well as enable safe disposal of opioids no longer needed.

Policymakers, advocates, and providers have referred to the current limit of 100 patients that physicians can prescribe buprenorphine for as an obstable to proper treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services is issuing a final rule that increases to 275 the total number of patients that certified doctors who prescribe buprenorphine can treat. This rule is aimed at improving access to MAT and behavioral health support for tens of thousands of Americans who seek help for their opioid use disorders.

Every day that passes without action from Congress to provide these much-needed, urgent resources is a missed opportunity to make life-saving treatment available to those who seek it and prevent more opioid-related overdose deaths. The harsh reality is that too many Americans with an opioid use disorder who want treatment are still unable to get it - that is why President Obama has called on Congress to urgently provide the new resources needed for treatment. Without these additional resources, pending legislation this year would do little to effectively help thousands of Americans suffering from this chronic and potentially fatal disease.

Under the President's $1.1 billion request of Congress, the state of Michigan is slated to receive up to $28 million over 2 years to amplify access to medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with an opioid use disorder. Michigan ranked 16th nationwide in drug poisoning mortality rate, with 18.0 per 100,000 population in 2014, compared to 14.7 the average national death rate.

Last Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan agreement to further strengthen local collaborative partenerships for the purpose of reducing accidental fatalities associated with opioid use, abuse, and overdose. According to U.S. Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07)’s office, the amendment will allocate an additional $2 million for the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, a drug prohibition enforcement program run by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Heroin-related overdose deaths are on the rise in Michigan and the entire nation as drug dealers started mixing heroin and fentanyl to create a more intense high. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and much cheaper to manufacture, thus enabling drug dealers to maximize their profits. Illegal drug labs in Mexico and the US are now producing fentanyl from scratch. Fentanyl's extremely fast potency makes this combo particularly dangerous since users may not even realize how much they are actually taking. According to the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists Dr. J. Abenstein, the more narcotic one takes, the less their body has an urge to breathe, so a lot of people overdose on the fentanyl-heroin combo because they are not sure how much to take.

So far in 2016, Hillsdale County has already seen 16 heroin-related overdoses and 3 of them proved to be fatal. Compared to a total of 18 heroin-related overdoses and 4 overdose deaths reported in 2015, officials estimate that the total number of opioid-related overdoses in the county this year will surpass the 2015 numbers.

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