March 23, 2016

Warner & Kaine Call For Additional Funding To Combat Drug Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have called on Senate appropriators to increase federal funding to address the nation’s prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.  As the Senate Appropriations Committee drafts its FY 2017 spending proposals, Warner and Kaine joined 20 Senators from both sides of the aisle to express strong support for effective drug prevention and treatment programs that will save lives, reunite families and strengthen communities. 

“As you consider spending priorities for fiscal year (FY) 2017, we are writing to request the highest possible funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant – a critical program distributed to all States that supports lifesaving substance use disorder treatment, prevention, and recovery services,” the Senators wrote. “In our view, the scope of this epidemic requires our continued focus and attention, and stemming its tide requires sufficient federal resources to help support state and local efforts.”

Warner and Kaine have supported legislation at the federal level to strengthen prevention efforts and help prevent opioid overdose deaths, which outnumbered car accident fatalities in Virginia in 2014. Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bipartisan bill introduced by Kaine that would encourage physicians to co-prescribe the life-saving drug naloxone alongside opioid prescriptions and make naloxone more widely available in federal health settings.

Full text of the letter:

Dear Chairmen Cochran and Blunt, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, and Ranking Member Murray,

Thank you for your leadership to address the nation’s prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.  As you consider spending priorities for fiscal year (FY) 2017, we are writing to request the highest possible funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant – a critical program distributed to all States that supports lifesaving substance use disorder treatment, prevention, and recovery services.   

As you know, the nation is in the midst of an opioid abuse crisis.  The number of Americans aged 12 or older using opioids non-medically has reached approximately 4.5 million (SAMHSA, 2015).  Individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers are forty times more likely to be addicted to heroin, and prior prescription drug use appears to have been a common initial step on the pathway to heroin addiction, with 80 percent of new heroin users previously misusing prescription opioids (CDC 2015; SAMHSA 2013).  As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that over the last 10 years, heroin use has more than doubled among young adults ages 18 to 25.  Further, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there was a 6-fold increase in the total number of heroin-related overdose deaths from 2001 to 2014.  According to the CDC, in 2014, prescription opioid misuse and heroin addiction resulted in a total of 28,647 deaths.

The opioid abuse epidemic has also placed incredible pressures on our nation’s substance use disorder treatment system.  Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Treatment Episode Data System (TEDS) show that in 2012, nearly one-third of all treatment admissions were for prescription opioids or heroin, up from 14.9 percent in 1992.  According to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD), 39 States reported increases in treatment admissions for heroin during the past year (NASADAD, 2015).  Further, according to SAMHSA, admissions to treatment for opioid pain relievers increased by a staggering 500 percent from 2000 to 2012.  It is clear that more must be done to support effective treatment and prevention programs.

The SAPT Block Grant, distributed to all States and Territories, provided treatment services for almost 2 million Americans in FY 2014.  In FY 2015, of clients discharged from treatment, over 72 percent were abstinent from illicit drugs and more than 83 percent were abstinent from alcohol.  The prevention funds included in the SAPT Block grant represent 70 percent of primary prevention funding managed by State substance abuse agencies. While the nation continues to grapple with an opioid abuse crisis of growing proportions, over the past 10 years, SAPT Block Grant funding has not kept up with inflation, resulting in a significant decrease in actual funding.    

We were pleased to see included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 a significant increase in funding for prevention and treatment initiatives related to addressing opioid abuse.  In our view, the scope of this epidemic requires our continued focus and attention, and stemming its tide requires sufficient federal resources to help support state and local efforts.  As work moves forward on appropriations for FY 2017, we urge you to maintain the highest possible level of funding for the SAPT Block Grant.  While we understand the current constraints on federal spending, we strongly support sensible investments in effective prevention and treatment programs that will save lives, reunite families and strengthen communities.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

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