The U.S.D.A. is awarding grants to facilities that provide mental health counseling as one response to the opioid epidemic, but U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says far more federal money is needed to help those who’ve become addicted to powerful prescription pain meds.
“This is a disease,” Vilsack says. “It’s not a character flaw.”
Vilsack says last year more Americans died of an opioid or heroin overdose than died in car crashes.
Vilsack spoke to reporters this morning during a conference call organized by the White House. President Obama has called for spending $1.1 billion more to respond to the opioid epidemic, but Vilsack said a bill pending in congress doesn’t provide any “significant” money for the effort.
“It is imperative given the time-sensitive nature of this that Iowans understand what’s at stake,” Vilsack said, “that Senator Grassley, who’s a key…person in all of this, understands the significance and importance of providing resources.”
Grassley is on a committee of House and Senate members hammering out a compromise on the bill. Charles City Mayor Jim Erb said local governments do not have the money to help people who’ve become addicted to prescription pain meds like oxycodone.
“What will happen is if we do not get adequate resources for treatment engaged at this point, at least in Iowa, we’re going to have a runaway addition problem with heroin which we don’t have presently, at least not in rural Iowa,” Erb said.
According to federal data, 80 percent of heroin users first became addicted to prescription opioids. Patricia Presley of Coralville is the mother of a son who at the age of 24 admitted he was addicted to heroin and she immediately took him to the emergency room at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
“There was little to no help that night,” she said on the White House conference call. “He was discharged after a few bags of IV fluids. There was no recommended medical follow up, no admission to any inpatient detox or treatment unit.”
Nick Presley was 31 when he died of a heroin overdose last year. His mother told reporters Nick’s experience “highlights the inadequacies” of the treatment system.
“Addiction does not need to end in death,” Patricia Presley said. “We have the technology, the knowledge to treat this disease…and we need to do it quickly.”
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 44 percent of Americans believe they know someone who is addicted to opioids. An estimated two million Americans are addicted to opioids.