HHS on Thursday said it will give four states more than $350 million to reduce opioid deaths by 40% over three years.
Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio will participate in a study that could serve as a blueprint for other states on how to curb the opioid epidemic, HHS officials said. The study aims to coordinate efforts to prevent and treat opioid addiction in schools, the criminal justice system and other parts of the community.
"Sadly this effort is necessary because our country faces an unprecedented crisis of opioid abuse and overdose," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at an event in Washington announcing the study.
The study is part of a long-term initiative at the National Institutes of Health called Helping to End Addiction Long-term, or HEAL, which aims to coordinate efforts across HHS' various agencies to combat the opioid crisis.
The funds will be doled out as grant awards to a university or hospital system in each state: The University of Kentucky, Boston Medical Center, Columbia University in New York and Ohio State University in Columbus.
"Each site is partnering with at least 15 communities to measure the impact of integrating evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery interventions across primary care, behavioral health, justice and other settings in highly affected parts of the country," according to an NIH release on the project.
The not-for-profit RTI International institute in North Carolina will be a coordinating center that will examine data and health economics research from each of the states in order to disseminate the findings to other states.
NIH Director Francis Collins said at the event that there has been research conducted on how best to deal with opioid addiction, but there are "still a lot of things we don't know about the treatment needed."
"A lot of those studies we have done have tended to be … circumscribed in a relatively well-studied environment, and they haven't necessarily translated out to the communities," Collins said. "Certainly reaching rural communities has been particularly challenging."
Azar told reporters that funding for the study, called HEALing Communities, wouldn't be affected by cuts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or NIH in the proposed White House budget.
The budget proposal released last month would cut SAMSHA by $62 million in federal fiscal 2020 and NIH by $5.5 billion.
However, there is a "firewall" around any marked opioid funding, Azar said.
He added that the budget is also just a proposal and doesn't have to be adopted by Congress, which so far has shown little affection for it.