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HHS Distributes $458M in 21st Century Cures Opioid Abuse Grants

All 50 states and the US territories will receive funds to combat opioid abuse thanks to a provision in the 21st Century Cures Act.

Opioid abuse and 21st Century Cures Act

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- HHS is planning to boost the fight against opioid abuse and addiction on a large scale by preparing to disburse $485 million in grant funding to all 50 states and every US territory.  The funding stems from the 21st Century Cures Act and will be overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“Opioids were responsible for over 33,000 deaths in 2015; this alarming statistic is unacceptable to me,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price in a letter to state governors accompanying the announcement.

While the 21st Century Cures Act was primarily focused on precision medicine and retooling the nation’s pharmaceutical development regulations, it also included a number of provisions related to health IT and population health management.

The bill, signed into law by President Obama in December of 2016, earmarked $1 billion over two years to help states and local communities curb the opioid abuse epidemic.  This is the first of two rounds of grants available to states and territories.

The legislation directs states to use the funding to increase access to substance abuse treatment options, expand the use of state-level prescription drug monitoring programs, train healthcare providers to respond to opioid abuse more effectively, and implement prevention programs to reduce the development of addiction in vulnerable patients.

READ MORE: Addressing Opioid Abuse with Analytics, Population Health Strategies

“These grants aim to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet need, and reduce overdose related deaths,” said Price.

Price added that HHS will be seeking input from the healthcare industry on how to use the funding most effectively.

“I understand the urgency of this funding; however, I also want to ensure the resources and policies are properly aligned with and remain responsive to this evolving epidemic. Therefore, while I am releasing the funding for the first year immediately, my intention for the second year is to develop funding allocations and policies that are the most clinically sound, effective and efficient.”

“To that end, in the coming weeks and months, I will seek your assistance to identify best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that produce measureable results.”

HHS and CMS have already proposed several guidelines for helping providers and public health officials address the growing trend of addiction

READ MORE: Big Data Analytics Cuts Medicaid Opioid Abuse, Ups Patient Safety

In January, CMS officials stressed the importance of taking a patient-centered approach to prescribing opioids judiciously and helping chronic pain patients avoid long-term dependence on painkillers.

 “Our primary aim is to ensure that patients, their families, and caregivers have a better understanding of how to work with providers to identify treatment goals and successfully manage pain using current, safe, effective, and accessible treatments; for many patients this may not include an opioid,” wrote Shantanu Agrawal, MD, Director, Center for Program Integrity and Kate Goodrich, MD, MHS, Director, Center for Clinical Standards and Quality.

“CMS is committed to high quality care, including appropriate pain management.  In order to best fulfill that commitment, we need to modify trends in opioid prescribing, use, misuse, and overdose, and increase support services to help individuals recover from opioid use disorder, as well as provide the full spectrum of evidence-based practices for acute and chronic pain management.”

HHS has also suggested changing the way providers are graded on pain management in the HCAHPS survey.  Last July, HHS proposed that patient satisfaction with pain management should no longer be tied to Medicare reimbursements.

“Many clinicians report feeling pressure to overprescribe opioids because scores on the HCAHPS survey pain management questions are tied to Medicare payments to hospitals,” HHS explained.

READ MORE: Communities Tackle Opioid Abuse with EHRs, Population Health

“In order to mitigate even the perception that there is financial pressure to overprescribe opioids, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to remove the HCAHPS survey pain management questions from the hospital payment scoring calculation.  This means that hospitals would continue to use the questions to survey patients about their in-patient pain management experience, but these questions would not affect the level of payment hospitals receive.”

These strategies, combined with a number of other public and private initiatives to reduce rampant prescribing, monitor opioid use more effectively, and connect patients with substance abuse treatment services, may help to prevent future cases of addiction.

“We cannot continue to lose our nation’s citizens to addiction,” Price stated. “Through a sustained focus on people, patients, and partnerships, I am confident that together we can turn the tide on this public health crisis.”

“Thank you for your collaboration and partnership as we move forward in this critical work together to help the millions of Americans hurt by this public health crisis.”

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