March 29, 2020
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Trump sends a mixed message on addiction treatment

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, visited the State House earlier this month for a round-table listening session on the state and nation's opioid addiction crisis.

If there is one bright spot in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, it is that his administration reversed course and now wants to maintain funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The administration had proposed eliminating the office and, more recently, suggesting that its funding be cut by 95 percent, which essentially would end its operations.

Now, thanks to outcry from lawmakers, including Sen. Angus King, the Trump administration will keep the office and most of its funding. This is good news, but the administration’s growing emphasis on law enforcement and incarceration as the major tools used to ease the nation’s opioid crisis remains concerning.

Despite its bureaucratic name, the office is the hub of the country’s work to reduce substance use disorder. The national office not only provides crucial information, coordination and assistance; it sends money from federal agencies to the most promising programs at the state and local levels, including programs related to law enforcement, treatment and prevention.

In 2016, the office coordinated more than $30 billion in federal spending on drug control efforts. Last year, the office awarded $2.25 million to 18 Drug Free Communities Support Program projects in Maine. The money supports local efforts by community groups and government agencies to reduce youth substance abuse.

Perhaps more important, there was a significant shift under the Obama administration to focus on treatment and recovery in addition to disrupting drug supplies through law enforcement. This focus is supported by research. As the Associated Press reported this week, medication-assisted treatment, coupled with counseling, has been documented as the most effective way to treat substance use disorder. The AP cited a 2014 review of 31 studies that found methadone and buprenorphine keep people in treatment and off illicit drugs.

Such research should drive funding and policy decisions about how best to counteract the opioid epidemic that kills more than 30,000 Americans per year. Last year, 376 Maine people died of drug overdoses.

So it is concerning to hear Tom Price, head of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, denigrate medication-assisted treatment, suggesting it simply replaces one drug addiction with another.

Such concerns are compounded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ emphasis on incarceration as an important piece of the addiction battle.

Combine this with the Trump-backed American Health Care Act, which would end Medicaid expansion, one of the most effective ways of expanding access to addiction treatment to low-income Americans, and the picture is bleak.

While there is much to be wary about when it come to the Trump administration’s approach to substance abuse, the continuation of the national drug office — and its continued funding — are positive steps.


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