ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Officials announced on Wednesday that a $1 billion grant was distributed to tackle the ever-looming threat of opioids in America, something previously labeled a national public health emergency.
Of those funds, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said more than $10 million will be going to Alaska.
According to an HHS news release, $4,027,823 will go toward increasing access to medication-assisted treatment using the three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid addiction.
The other chunk, $6,385,572, will go to expanding the coverage of health treatment centers in Alaska to include substance use disorder and mental health problems.
The goal is to reduce Alaska overdose deaths related to opioids, something proving difficult at almost every stage according to recent data, which shows deaths caused by the opioid fentanyl rising dramatically in Alaska.
While the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says opioid use dropped for the second year nation-wide, indicating "encouraging progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic," that drop wasn't reflected in Alaska's data, which has seen nothing but an increase in opioid use and subsequent opioid-related deaths.
Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Advisor for Opioid Policy, said the $1 billion in grants will be spent in various ways across the country to promote the department's approach to tackling the opioid epidemic.
“With these new funds, states, tribes, and communities across America will be able to advance our strategy and continue making progress against this crisis,” Giroir said in a release.
But money alone isn't the answer, and the department knows it.
Another big piece of the problem, and generally considered to be one of the major catalysts for the epidemic in the first place, is the over-prescription of high power pain medication in the form of controlled opioids.
Officials looking for results in the opioid epidemic, including Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who declared the situation a disaster back in 2017, have pointed to the correlation between high prescription rates and the resulting increase in addiction and overdose cases.
To that end, HHS also announced progress being made, stating that from January 2017 through August 2018, the amount of opioids prescribed in America reportedly dropped by 21 percent.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new hurdles it had created for service providers, which aim to limit the prescription of opioid pain killers to patients, including requiring more specific training for health care providers.
In a statement on the FDA website, commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, "As part of our comprehensive work in this area, we’re taking new steps to rationalize prescribing and reduce overall exposure to these drugs as a way to cut the rate of new addiction. Many people who become addicted to opioids will have their first exposure in the medical setting."
This sentiment alone, which is becoming more widely-adopted in tackling the opioid epidemic, is also working to shift the blame away from those directly damaged by opioids, and instead take aim at care providers and big pharma.
"Providers have a critical role to play in making sure these products are appropriately prescribed to patients," Gottlieb stated.