A $50 Million Infusion in the Opioid Fight

Protesters attend the Hope Not Heroin march and rally in Norwalk, Ohio in July 2017, calling on increased federal efforts combatting the opioid crisis. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Protesters attend the Hope Not Heroin march and rally in Norwalk, Ohio in July 2017, calling on increased federal efforts combatting the opioid crisis. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Following yesterday’s dismal news of a yet another decline in US life expectancy, Michael R. Bloomberg announced today that he will put $50 million into helping up to 10 states fight the opioid epidemic over the next 3 years.

The funds will support a unique collaboration between states, the CDC, academia and other organizations to improve treatment and prevention programs, develop novel interventions and share the most effective solutions. 

“We are experiencing a national crisis: For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years—and opioids are a big reason why,” said Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, in a statement. “We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue—not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives.” 

The opioid epidemic is having a staggering impact on Americans’ health with more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths last year, including more than 47,000 opioid overdoses. More than 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids. Despite the epidemic’s scale, only 8% of U.S. counties have overdose education and naloxone distribution programs. And just 10% of people in the US in need of treatment for substance use disorder can get it. 

In a USA Today op-ed, Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called out the federal government for its sluggish and inadequate response to the epidemic. “What's truly needed is a comprehensive strategy that includes the policy changes necessary to stem the epidemic and overcome barriers to treatment,” they wrote.

The partnership includes Vital Strategies, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University and the CDC through the CDC Foundation. In addition to the funding, experts from the partner organizations will be embedded in state and local agencies with a mission of reducing opioid-related deaths, according to a Bloomberg Philanthropies statement. The partnership will collect lessons learned and share effective tools and guidelines with other states.
The partnership organizations will respond to state needs, said Kelly Henning, Public Health Lead for Bloomberg Philanthropies. “It could be they need an expert to think through how they can broadly distribute Narcan, or it could be how to ramp up medically assisted treatment,” Henning said. “It could be there’s actually some area of a state—maybe a rural area that needs more staff so we could provide more staff to put in place.”  

Other support may come in the form of software that connects the criminal justice and public health systems or as communications campaigns that reduce stigma or explain the importance of medication for treatment. 

At least $10 million will go to the first state to participate, Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdoses in 2017—by comparison, approximately 3,300 Pennsylvanians died from homicides between 2012-2016. 
“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis for Pennsylvania and the nation that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Gov. Wolf in the statement. “We are deeply grateful for the financial and technical resources that we will receive through this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies to complement our existing efforts.” 

Bloomberg will announce the support for states at the inaugural Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington, DC, which is hosted by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. The Initiative was created in 2016 with a $300 million gift to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which publishes Global Health NOW. The Initiative works to apply public health tools and strategies to five critical challenges facing American communities—Addiction and Overdose; Environmental Challenges; Risks to Adolescent Health; Violence; and Obesity and the Food System.
“Communities across the country are taking innovative steps to address the opioid epidemic. Evaluating the efficacy of these approaches will help us determine which ones should be scaled up and implemented across the board,” said Ellen J. MacKenzie, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “As the home of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, we are eager to do our part to help translate research into life-saving action.”

Ed. Note: Michael R. Bloomberg is a benefactor of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which publishes Global Health NOW.

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