Just days from the end of his tenure as the nation's drug czar, Michael Botticelli visited Baltimore's health department on Tuesday to highlight the efforts of local officials to combat the nation's opioid epidemic and warn against a scaling back of health insurance coverage for addiction treatment.
Millions of people have gained access to addiction treatment through insurance provided under the federal Affordable Care Act, he said. That's now under threat from the GOP-led Congress and the incoming administration of Donald Trump, which have pledged to repeal the law known as Obamacare.
As fatal overdoses continue to climb in Maryland and across much of the country, Botticelli said more treatment is needed, not less.
"We are losing too many Americans on a daily basis," Botticelli said just after meeting with a local task force aimed at improving access to drug treatment.
Drug and alcohol related overdoses in Maryland totaled 1,468 in the first nine months of the year, eclipsing the 1,259 for all of 2015, according to state health data. The number has more than doubled since 2010 in Maryland, one of about 30 states to report a spike that officials connect to opioids.
Botticelli said efforts by Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner, and others have had an impact on prescription drug misuse and overdose by adopting policies advocated by federal officials. They include creation of a prescription drug monitoring program, drug disposal programs, public training in the opioid overdose antidote naloxone and expansion of treatment.
Now local officials must deal with increases in illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, a powerful opioid often mixed into heroin unbeknownst to users. That will require more coordination with law enforcement and more treatment. Some of those coordination efforts could come through a $1 billion appropriation for opioid addiction included in the 21st Century Cures Act recently passed by Congress, Botticelli said.
Maryland could tap $10 million of those funds, he said.