WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will ask Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding to help fight the opioid abuse epidemic, boosting the amount of federal money for drug treatment and strategies to prevent overdoses, administration officials announced Tuesday.
Most of the money, which will be included in the budget proposal Obama will release next week, would support treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use — highlighting an epidemic that has gotten attention from lawmakers and governors in both parties.
Obama wants $1 billion over two years, including $920 million to help states provide medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse, $50 million in National Health Service Corps funds to help people go to doctors who provide substance abuse services, and $30 million to evaluate how effective the treatment programs are.
That money would come from a new, automatic funding stream, meaning it would not depend on Congress to act on it every year; it would only have to approve the financing once.
Obama’s budget will also call for a $90 million increase to help the states expand programs to help prevent prescription drug overdoses, especially in the rural areas that have been hardest hit by the epidemic.
The request comes one day after the Obama administration said it would seek $1 billion in funding for a “moonshot” against cancer, another initiative that officials are seeking to preview in the run-up to the release of the budget blueprint next week.
The federal funding bill Obama signed in December included $400 million in funding to address opioid abuse, a $100 million increase over the previous year but still nowhere the new investment the president is hoping for.
If Congress approves the money, it would be a “significant investment in this fight,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said on a conference call with reporters. She noted that her home state of West Virginia has had some of the most severe problems with opioid abuse.
She said the money would help close the “treatment gap” — 2.2 million Americans need treatment, she said, but only 1 million get it now.
There’s no guarantee that congressional Republicans would approve the money, especially since Obama is proposing to get most of the money from an automatic funding stream, a budgetary approach that many Republicans don’t like.
However, Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said lawmakers of both parties have seen their communities hit by the epidemic and insisted that “there is a tremendous amount of bipartisan support in terms of dealing with the epidemic.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 28,000 people died in the United States last year from opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin, a new record for drug overdose deaths.
The crisis has gotten attention from several of the presidential candidates, including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republicans Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie — though most of the candidates avoid specifics on how to deal with it.