“We believe this effort will show that truly dramatic reductions in overdose deaths are possible, and provide lessons and models for other communities to adopt and emulate. We don’t have to be intimidated by the scale of this challenge. We can start saving lives now, and we can do it in a way that will pay dividends for communities everywhere, for years to come.”
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Admiral Giroir, and thank you everyone for joining us here today for this important announcement.
The awards we’re launching are a historic initiative by the Trump Administration and the communities involved—an unprecedented effort to treat Americans struggling with addiction, help them enter recovery, and prevent substance abuse in the first place.
Sadly, this effort is necessary because our country faces an unprecedented crisis of opioid abuse and overdose.
Nearly 200 Americans are dying every day from drug overdoses. More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, a greater number than our country lost in the entirety of the Vietnam War.
Last year, according to data from SAMHSA, more than 2 million Americans had an opioid use disorder.
Behind these numbers are Americans with real stories, and communities that are deeply suffering.
Soon after taking office as HHS secretary last year, I met with Sam Quinones, the author of the book Dreamland, which was many Americans’ first introduction to the stories of individuals and communities hardest hit by the opioid crisis. I asked him where, in all the travel he’s done, he’s seen reasons for hope.
He had a clear answer: Go talk to those in the hardest hit communities, and learn about the coalitions they’ve built. When communities come together, he said, they can beat this crisis.
He was right, and I’ve now heard the same message from so many quarters: It takes a whole community to beat this crisis. It takes doctors, nurses, cops, courts, teachers, mayors, employers, parents, coaches, young people, faith leaders.
It takes everybody.
That insight about the role of communities on the ground has shaped HHS’s science-based strategy for combating the opioid crisis, which Admiral Giroir mentioned, and it has shaped the initiative we’re announcing today.
Better prevention, treatment, and recovery services requires connecting with people on the ground. Better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs means understanding who in communities needs that tool on hand. Better data on the crisis starts at the community level, in public health departments and local government. Better pain management starts in doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
With this initiative, we’ll be supporting these substantive goals as well as the fifth goal, better research, right in the communities hardest hit by this crisis.
The work local communities are doing on each of these fronts is producing results. We’ve seen opioid prescribing nationally drop more than 20 percent since President Trump took office.
We’ve seen significant increases in the prescribing of medication-assisted treatment.
We saw a significant drop in first-time heroin use from 2016 to 2017. Most important, in 2018, national provisional counts of drug overdose deaths began to decline.
These are encouraging signs—but we all know we have so far to go. A challenge like this can sometimes look insurmountable, like we’re trying to boil the ocean. Where do we even begin?
HEALing Communities will help answer that question, by providing comprehensive support on all fronts to reduce overdose deaths in communities across four states by 40 percent over three years.
We believe this effort will show that truly dramatic reductions in overdose deaths are possible, and provide lessons and models for other communities to adopt and emulate.
We don’t have to be intimidated by the scale of this challenge.
We can start saving lives now, and we can do it in a way that will pay dividends for communities everywhere, for years to come.
So thank you, Admiral Giroir, Dr. Collins, Dr. McCance-Katz, and Dr. Volkow, for spearheading this initiative. Thank you to Governor Bevin and the other leaders we have on hand and to all the communities who have committed to making the best possible use of these dollars.
Thank you to Alex Elswick, a community leader from Kentucky who will share his story of recovery shortly.
Most of all, thank you to everyone across America who is playing a part in fighting this crisis. With your help, we’re going to keep moving in the right direction, and together, we’re going to beat this crisis.
I now want to hand things over to Dr. Collins, who has been deeply committed to NIH’s opioid efforts, to explain more about the initiative and how it fits into their work. Thank you again to everyone for joining us here today.