The White House is asking for increased attention to the nation’s opioid epidemic, at the same time that more staggering statistics were just released on the toll that heroin and prescription painkillers are taking on society.
On Friday, President Obama declared these seven days Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, starting Sunday and running through Sept. 24. Prescription painkillers alone have killed more than 165,000 Americans since 1999, and the nation’s top official wants the U.S. to take this week to remember those lost to overdoses, and support survivors who are still fighting addiction.
“Too often, we expect people struggling with substance use disorders to self-diagnose and seek treatment. And although we have made great strides in helping more Americans access care, far too many still lack appropriate, evidence-based treatment,” the president said in a statement issued Friday. “This week, we reaffirm our commitment to raising awareness about this disease and supporting prevention and treatment programs. Let us ensure everyone with an opioid use disorder can embark on the road to recovery, and together, let us begin to turn the tide of this epidemic.”
Obama also used the proclamation as an opportunity to continuing pushing Congress to provide the $1.1 billion in funding he said is needed to address this epidemic. Those dollars would go toward expanding “overdose prevention strategies,” including increased access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. In the meantime, the feds are working to bolster safe prescribing practices while also supporting a targeted law enforcement response to the epidemic.
“Congress must act quickly to help more individuals get the treatment they need — because the longer we go without congressional action on this funding, the more opportunities we miss to save lives,” Obama said.
The president’s proclamation comes just days after the release of a study detailing the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic. Between 2011 and 2015, insurers’ payments to hospitals, labs and other treatment centers for opioid abuse increased thirteen fold, according to a new analysis, released last week by health care transparency advocate Fair Health. In dollars and cents, that payout number leaped from just $32 million up to $446 million last year.
Patients treated for opioid-use disorder are substantially more costly than the average hospital visitor, Fair Health found. Typically, insurers pay out about $3,435 for each individual’s treatment, but that baloons to about $19,333 for those dependent on opioids.
And those are just the health care costs. Another study, out last week in the Medical Care journal, estimates that the total economic burden associated with prescription opioid overdose, abuse and dependence at $78.5 billion in 2013. More than one-third of those costs (or $28.9 billion) went toward health care treatment for substance abuse. About a quarter of those dollars were borne by the public sector, in the form of substance abuse treatment and criminal justice costs, according to the study.