Feds OK use of opioid funding toward other substances

HUNTINGTON — States will soon be able to utilize opioid funding from the federal government to address the resurgence of methamphetamine and cocaine.

The 2020 funding bill passed by Congress in December included Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s Combating Meth and Cocaine Act. The bill expands the use of the State Opioid Response Grant funding to address rising use and overdose deaths attributed to the abuse of methamphetamine and cocaine.

“This is not just an opioid problem. This is an addiction problem,” Portman said on the floor of the Senate on Dec. 19. “And addiction is a disease that must be treated like other diseases. And although we have made progress, we can’t rest on our laurels, because when I talk to those on the front lines, as I did on Monday in Dayton with law enforcement — the sheriff was there for Montgomery County — but also to treatment providers, those who are in the trenches, talking to those who are recovering addicts who were there, they tell me about what’s happening, which is that increasingly other drugs, including psychostimulants like crystal meth and cocaine, are making a horrible comeback in those communities.”

State Opioid Response, or SOR, grants are designed to address the opioid epidemic broadly. SOR provided $1 billion to states to combat the opioid epidemic for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 and $500 million to states in fiscal year 2019. West Virginia has received $70,685,383 in SOR grants over three years; Ohio, $140,703,888; and Kentucky, $79,387,128.

According to an annual survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2016, 2.4 million Americans said they recently had started using cocaine, methamphetamines or prescription stimulants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants have increased nationwide in recent years. Among the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, more than 23,000 — or nearly a third — involved cocaine, meth or both. From 2016 to 2017, death rates involving psychostimulants like meth and cocaine each increased by approximately 33%.

West Virginia has seen a dramatic increase in meth usage, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

More than one-third of drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved meth. This continues a significant and rapidly rising trend seen in recent years, from just 3% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. More than half of all methamphetamine-related deaths also involved fentanyl, according to DHHR.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said Friday during the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead that in 2018, West Virginia had a 6% reduction in overdose deaths, following a 22% and 13% increase the previous two years. He said while he is happy that deaths have gone down, they can’t get too excited about the slight reduction.

“It’s harder to overdose on meth,” he said.

Crouch said they aren’t going to let up on expanding services targeting opioid addiction, but said the state will have to adjust as substances continue to change. Effective programs like quick response teams (now in 20 communities in West Virginia), which respond to overdoses, may become less effective as those with substance use disorder transition to substances that come with fewer overdoses.

“We do have to make shifts, and we are already looking at our population,” Crouch said. “ … It’s the flavor of the month. It’s just whatever is readily available. If fentanyl continues coming into our country from China at the rate it is now, that’s going to continue to be our biggest problem. If opioids are available, people take opioids. They are going to take what is available. Substance use disorder is a brain disorder that makes people think differently.”

The state is awaiting more federal guidance before it can make any determinations on how it will utilize the new federal policy, a DHHR spokesperson said.

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