The governor says his proposed budget includes alternative treatments for some chronic pain conditions and plans to distribute fentanyl testing kits to slow the rate of overdoses.
Gov. Jay Inslee proposed the state spend $30 million to help combat the opioid epidemic by creating new programs and complementing actions already underway across the state.
The money, included in his proposed $54.4 billion budget, would be directed toward treatment and prevention of opioid-use disorder. Under the umbrella of treatment, programs ranging from peer support to residential programs for women would get funds.
Prevention efforts would funnel money toward nonpharmaceutical pain treatments such as chiropractic care for spinal pain and anti-overdose strategies, including providing kits to drugs users to help them identify whether street drugs contain the powerful synthetic narcotic fentanyl, which has been driving overdose rates.
At a Monday news conference at Harborview Medical Center, Inslee said these programs are part of the state’s “hub and spoke” approach to treatment and prevention, which lowers the barriers to treatment and attempts to surround people seeking and needing help with a multitude of services.
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“It is going to focus where it should first, which are pregnant moms and parenting programs,” Inlsee said. “We need more treatment options for young mothers.”
Treatment would receive $19.3 million of the $30 million, and be used to support women and parents struggling with opioid addiction. New programs would include a Medicaid substance-use peer service and startup costs for four new, 16-bed residential treatment sites for pregnant and parenting women, allowing mothers to be with their children during treatment.
Money is also included in Inslee’s proposed budget to help drug users coming out of jail.
Prevention efforts would get $10.7 million and go toward providing Medicaid patients access to alternative pain treatments and mail screening at the state’s four minimum-security prisons to keep drugs away from inmates.
The governor’s inclusion of opioid-abuse prevention and treatment money in his budget comes two years after Inslee issued an executive order requiring law enforcement, public-health officials, state agencies and tribal governments to work together on the opioid problem, and three months after the state received $21.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the crisis.
The potential infusion of money comes at a time when public-health officials are worried about the rise of overdose deaths related to fentanyl, a narcotic 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin that is showing up in heroin and pills sold on the street.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 70,237 people died from drug overdoses in 2017. About 40 percent, or 28,466, of those deaths involved fentanyl.
In Washington, 81 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the first six months of this year, a jump of 33 people from the same time period in 2017. In total 739 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, making it the leading cause of accidental death in most of the state.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the governor’s proposal meshes well with ongoing efforts by King County to combat the opioid epidemic, funding programs and strategies the county has yet to focus on.
Washington’s Secretary of the Department of Health John Wiesman said Monday that a holistic approach by all levels of government — state, counties and cities — is need to address the issue.
“We can’t look at this department by department. We are all in this together,” he said after Inslee’s presentation.
The governor also took a swipe at a federal judge in Texas who ruled last week that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional and also was critical of politicians who say they want to address the opioid crisis while at the same time advocating for the repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
“Since the expansion of [the ACA], 21,533 people have received treatment for opioid-use disorder because of the health-care expansion,” said Inslee, who is investigating a run for president in 2020. “Let me tell you this, we are not going to allow any party, or anybody, to take away this health care from anyone in the state of Washington. It is too precious.”