Pennsylvania is slated to receive more than $81 million in federal funding over the next three years to combat the opioid crisis as part of a continued effort to expand access to treatment and stem the loss of life from overdoses.
Funding comes in the form of grants from two federal programs as part of the $1.8 billion package rolled out by the Trump administration on Thursday.
The money will be split between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Of the amount coming to Pennsylvania, $55.9 million comes from the State Opioid Response grant from the SAMHSA. The amount represents the state's share of the about $932 million in grants to all 50 states.
The state received an identical amount last fall from the same program plus a supplemental addition of more than $29 million.
In addition, the state will receive another $25.2 million in the form of a three-year, $8.4 million per year, grant from the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. That grant is part of $900 million from the administration aimed at helping state and local governments track overdose data as closely to real-time as possible and support them in work to prevent overdoses and save lives.
A press release issued by Gov. Tom Wolf's office said the $25.2 million will support the state's surveillance work surrounding drug-related overdoses.
The goal is to compile high quality, comprehensive and timely data on overdoses and to use that data to assist in prevention and intervention efforts.
Thursday's announcement brings the total amount of federal funding for the state's battle against opioids during the past two years to more than $141 million.
Any money sent to Butler County would be handled by the county's Drug and Alcohol program. The program's director, Donna Jenereski, didn't return repeated requests for comment.
“Pennsylvania is thrilled to continue to receive this unprecedented amount of funding for our drug and alcohol field,” said Jen Smith, secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary. “Making a dent in the opioid crisis requires doing something above and beyond what we've done traditionally in the commonwealth.”
In an announcement Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said $1.8 billion would be split between two programs across the United States.
More than $932 million will go toward prevention and treatment services, while another $900 million will go toward helping states create programs to track overdose deaths.
The county would receive a portion of the funds after submitting a request to the state, as it did last year.
The funding will go toward a number of items, including better data collection on overdose-related deaths, additional naloxone training for first responders, increased collaboration between county and municipal health departments, and educating opioid prescribers.
Paul Bacharach, president and chief executive officer at Gateway, a drug rehabilitation service based out of Aliquippa with outpatient facilities throughout Western Pennsylvania, welcomed the news.
“There's a lot of positive components to what they're working on,” Bacharach said.
He said he was especially pleased with a component of the program that offers clinicians loan repayment.
“It's a difficult field to recruit and retain employees,” Bacharach said. “In the past, addiction was not a priority in the health system in general, and to some extent we're playing catch-up, so helping individuals enterb and stay engaged in the field is important. Keeping clinicians is beneficial.”
Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday that the treatment options must include a combination of behavior therapy and medication to be eligible for funding.
And Bacharach said that having the two sides is important for long-term success in recovery.
“Taking a longer term view and treating addiction as a chronic disease and not something fixed like a broken leg is something I think is an appropriate strategy for the state to continue with,” Bacharach said.
Butler resident Jason Beck with, a certified recovery specialist who founded nonprofit Action in Recovery, also said he welcomed the merging of medication and therapy.
“Medication can be a good tool for some people for recovery, but I honestly believe we overmedicate and have been for years. I think the behavioral health has been missing,” he said.
Beckwith said he believes that medication doesn't “help completely.”
“You have to change the way you think, otherwise people will just go back to what they know,” Beckwith said. “I'm happy they're coordinating the two, and I'm hoping the behavioral health part will limit the medication part.”
Bacharach said data collection was important but one missing data point the government should track is which treatments work for longer-term addiction treatment.
“It's missing directing funding to getting more outcome data. To see what approaches in treatment are working which is somewhat lacking in the whole field,” Bacharach said. “There are some methods that don't work so it would be good to develop objective outcome data to help steer providers toward evidence based treatment.”
The grant is part of the Trump administration's attempt to address drug addiction. In 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.
According to recent data from the state's Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, about 4,400 people died in Pennsylvania from drug overdoses in 2018, representing a nearly 18 percent decrease from the previous year.
The CDC predicted a 5 percent drop in overdose deaths from all types of drugs between 2017 and 2018 based on preliminary data, the first decline in decades.
The agency predicted another drop in overdose deaths of 3.4 percent from January 2018 to January 2019.