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BPC Releases First Comprehensive, Transparent Study of Federal Funding to Fight Opioid Epidemic

Headshot of Joann Donnellan
Joann Donnellan

Washington, D.C.– In 2017, more than 70,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose, with almost 50,000 of these deaths involving an opioid. Americans are now at greater risk of dying from an opioid overdose than a car crash. While considerable attention has been paid to the underlying drivers of the epidemic, there has been less focus on the federal funding allocated to address the crisis. A new report, released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center, includes the first comprehensive and transparent study of how the federal government is financially supporting states and localities to curb this national crisis. It calls for federal funding to be more flexible, sustainable, coordinated, and transparent.

The report tracks all federal funding distributed to states in fiscal years (FY) 2017 and 2018 to fight the opioid epidemic and how these resources are being spent. BPC’s robust analysis identified 57 federal programs across five departments and multiple agencies, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy that, either entirely or significantly, fund efforts on the state level to tackle the epidemic.

“The sheer volume of grants going to the states has made it challenging for state officials to track and coordinate these funding streams and monitor the quality of treatment that is being provided,” said BPC’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anand Parekh. “Congress and the administration must provide greater oversight to ensure these federal resources are better coordinated and well spent, so states can respond effectively to this crisis.”

The report also examines how federal opioid investments are spent across five geographically diverse states: Arizona, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Tennessee. The average drug overdose death rate in these states was nearly one and half times (144 percent) higher than the national average in 2017.

BPC’s study shows that federal funding is reaching areas with the highest number of deaths in these states. However, when examining the per capita federal funding in rural and metropolitan areas of these states, BPC found that many rural counties receive relatively low levels of direct funding compared with the more populated cities.

Over the past two years, the federal government has invested billions of dollars into prevention, treatment, and recovery as well as research, criminal justice, law enforcement, and interdiction efforts. BPC’s analysis shows that the federal government spent nearly $11 billion for these programs—$3.3 billion in FY2017 and $7.4 billion in FY2018—a 124 percent increase in discretionary appropriations. Between the two years, funding specifically targeted for treatment and recovery increased $1.5 billion (from $599 million to $2.12 billion).

“With one-time funding, we are treating the problem of addiction in our country as an acute condition rather than a chronic condition,” said BPC consultant Regina LaBelle, former chief of staff of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Substance use disorders are not going away. Federal funding must be provided over the long-term instead of in annual budget cycles. It should also be flexible enough to allow states to respond to changes in drug use patterns.”

“Governors are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic and keenly aware that the crisis is multifaceted and demands the same response,” said Hemi Tewarson, health division director for the National Governors Association.

BPC’s study was compiled by identifying federally funded opioid programs in FY2017 and 2018, validating a catalog of federal appropriations and awards, aggregating and analyzing state spending data, and preparing case studies.

Read the full report and view our interactive map with state data of federally-funded opioid programs and death rates.

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