Every day in America more than 50 people die from an overdose of prescription pain medication. Some people who start out abusing pain pills later turn to heroin, which claims another 29 lives each day.
President Obama plans to ask lawmakers for hundreds of millions of dollars to combat this epidemic of opioid abuse when he releases his budget next week.
Most of that money — about a billion dollars over the next two years — would pay to expand treatment to help people kick the opioid habit. While the patchwork of treatment programs around the country has the capacity to serve about one million people, administration officials say the number of addicts who need help is more than double that.
“We’ve heard countless stories about people who encounter long waiting lines to get into treatment, to find a bed,” said White House drug czar Michael Botticelli. “[It’s] one of the things that’s really important when people reach out for help with addiction, which often can be a challenge. We want to get to the point where we have treatment on demand.”
Obama is also calling for more training of doctors in how to safely prescribe pain medication, more monitoring of the way patients use those drugs, and more access to the life-saving emergency medicine Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Congress is likely to ignore most of the president’s budget requests but his opioid prescription could be an exception. Painful stories of addiction have turned up frequently on the presidential campaign trail, helping to raise the profile of a problem which increasingly cuts across racial, economic, and party lines.
“I’ve been doing this work for a long time and it’s hard to find a family these days that hasn’t been impacted by this,” Botticelli said. “And that has profoundly moved not only the president but people in Congress to do more work on it.”
Opioid abuse was one of the topics Obama discussed with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell when they met at the White House Tuesday morning.
Later this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bipartisan bill that echoes many of the elements in the president’s budget request.
“I support providing additional resources to help fight this epidemic,” said Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the authors of the bill. “It has significant support from both sides of the aisle, as well as from doctors, nurses, first responders, those in recovery, and other experts in the field.”