- President Barack Obama has launched a new interagency initiative to tackle the growing problem of opioid abuse and misuse in rural communities, according to The Washington Post.
- The announcement follows congressional hearings last year on the opioid epidemic and the Food and Drug Administration’s Nov. 18, 2015, approval of an easy-to-use nasal spray version of the opioid antidote drug naloxone.
- U.S. deaths involving opioids increased 200% from 2000 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention.
The initiative signals a ratcheting up of efforts at the federal level to address the epidemic in opioid misuse and abuse, which kills 30,000 people a year. U.S. rural communities with fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty, are especially vulnerable.
Led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the initiative will centralize decisionmaking on drug abuse and other issues affecting rural America, such as poor mental and physical health and high suicide rates, the Washington Post reports.
Vilsack was tapped for the job because of his experience chairing the White House Rural Council. Among the council’s 15 members are HHS and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Last month’s budget agreement provides the administration $400 million in fiscal 2016 to address the opioid abuse crisis — up from $300 million last year. The agreement also allows the use of federal monies in needle exchange programs.
According to the CDC’s Jan. 1 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, the number of deaths from the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers jumped 9% from 2013 to 2014. “Deaths from synthetic opioids, a category that includes illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioid pain relievers other than methadone, increased 80%,” the agency said. The increase dovetailed with law enforcement reports of growing availability of illicit fentanyl.