Local Responses to the Opioid Epidemic

By: Christopher Cantrell | Deborah Bachrach | Jonah P. B. Frohlich | Alixandra Gould
– Health Affairs Blog

The opioid crisis represents a clear and present danger to the nation’s public health, with drug overdoses now claiming more lives than annual deaths from car crashes and gun violence combined. A staggering 20 million adults in the United States have a substance use disorder, yet 88 percent of these individuals do not receive treatment for their conditions. Local communities are experiencing the human and economic costs of the opioid epidemic first hand, most especially rural communities where the rate of opioid-related deaths is 45 percent higher than in metro areas. Untreated SUDs contribute to rising rates of incarceration, homelessness, and use of emergency services; straining local criminal justice systems, law enforcement, first responders, and community and public health resources beyond capacity. Despite heightened federal attention to these issues—most recently with President Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency to address the drug epidemic and new federal Medicaid guidance—there is no national strategy or significant funding dedicated to confronting the crisis. Cities and counties cannot wait and are stepping up, designing, funding, and launching local initiatives to alleviate the human and economic devastation of the opioid epidemic in their communities.

In our report, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Communities in Crisis: Local Responses to Behavioral Health Challenges, we conducted extensive research and spoke with many local initiative leaders about programs they have established to address the fallout of both untreated SUD and serious mental illness. The programs are diverse, but almost all are built and operate on a shoestring budget.

Read the article here