Virginia will receive $20.4 million from the administration of President Donald Trump to help fight an opioid addiction crisis that doesn’t appear to be abating in the state despite expanded access to overdose-reversing drugs.
The money is part of a $1.8 billion commitment announced by the Trump administration on Wednesday to help state, local and territorial governments respond to the opioid crisis with improved access to treatment and prevention services.
Most of the money, $15.8 million, will go to the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to help with treatment, prevention and recovery services for an epidemic that has taken more than 9,000 lives in Virginia since 2007.
The Virginia Department of Health will receive a separate allocation of more than $4.6 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the first year in a three-year program.
“This federal funding is an essential part of our combined efforts, along with health care professionals, community organizations and other stakeholders, to combat the substance use disorder crisis in Virginia,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said in a statement on Wednesday.
Carey said the two state agencies “have been at the front lines of the commonwealth’s work on these issues and these funds ... will allow them to expand and continue their life-saving work.”
Alex Azar, U.S. secretary of health and human services, touted results of what he said has been $9 billion in federal grants to increase access to treatment and prevention services since Trump became president more than two years ago.
“Our country is seeing the first drop in overdose deaths in more than two decades; more Americans are getting treatment for addiction and lives are being saved,” Azar said, referring to a 5% drop in all drug overdose deaths and a 2.8% decline in deaths from opioids last year from 2017.
Deaths from opioid overdose also declined slightly last year in Virginia — from a record 1,230 in 2017 to 1,215 in 2018. It was the first decline in the death toll since 2012.
But news isn’t as good this year, with Virginia on pace for a record 1,296 deaths from opioid overdose and 1,546 deaths from all drug overdoses.
The projected death toll, based on 324 opioid overdose deaths in the first three months of this year, would come despite a big increase in state spending on naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers. Virginia still faces a shortage of treatment options to help people once they’ve been revived by naloxone.
The Trump administration rolled out the two grant programs on Wednesday to help states in the fight. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said it will award $932 million to 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories that will give them “flexible funding” for supporting prevention, treatment and recovery services as they choose.
Separately, the CDC said it would provide $900 million over three years to help track overdoses and prevent deaths. Virginia is among 47 states, 16 localities, Washington, D.C., and two territories that will receive a portion of the $301 million that the CDC will award in the first year.
Health and Human Services adopted a five-point strategy in early 2017 to combat the opioid crisis: better addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services; better data; better pain management; better targeting of overdose reversing drugs; and better research.