Amid Opioid Crisis, States Struggle to Spend Hundreds of Millions in Federal Money to Fight It

March 19, 2018

Congress sent states hundreds of millions of dollars to fight an opioid crisis claiming more than 100 lives a day — money they've largely been unable to spend after a year.

Mixed signals from the Trump administration on how to use the money and state challenges ramping up their efforts have left untouched more than three-quarters of the $500 million Congress set aside under the 21st Century Cures Act in late 2016.

As President Donald Trump heads to hard-hit New Hampshire today to tout his plan to combat the crisis, the slow drip of dollars into communities hit hard by addiction has put state officials in a bind and frustrated addiction experts and some treatment organizations.

“This is a total failure,” said Andrew Kolodny, former chief medical officer at Phoenix House and now a Brandeis University researcher, likening the situation to food and water “stuck in an airport somewhere, while people are starving to death.”

The grants for opioid addiction and prevention efforts were part of a $1 billion commitment over two years authorized in the Cures Act, which then-President Barack Obama signed just before leaving office.

But state officials were quickly caught in a dilemma: They were happy to receive new money, but it was guaranteed for only two years, making it difficult to get long-term commitments from health care providers and others to build programs and hire a workforce.

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