Federal Opioid Grant Funding Favors Least Populous States, Not Those With the Greatest Need

In a new paper published in the journal Health Affairs, Batten’s Christopher J. Ruhm and co-author Bradley A. Katcher find that the federal government’s opioid grant funding structure favors the least populous states, which are not always the states with greatest need.

Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of economics and public policy at the Batten School, and Bradley Katcher, a research assistant for the Federal Reserve and Batten School alum (MPP ’19)
Co-authors Bradley A. Katcher, a research assistant for the Federal Reserve and Batten School alum (MPP ’19), and Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of economics and public policy at the Batten School.

For more than three decades, the United States has suffered from an opioid epidemic, and new data from the CDC suggests that COVID-19 is exacerbating the crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal government’s largest funding source dedicated to behavioral and mental health, has been providing states with funding to reduce and treat opioid misuse. But there’s reason to believe that the agency is failing to effectively target areas of the country where people are struggling most.

Two researchers—Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of economics and public policy at the Batten School, and Bradley Katcher, a research assistant for the Federal Reserve and Batten School alum (MPP ’19)—created a comprehensive database to analyze the distribution of SAMHSA grants. In a study recently published in Health Affairs, a leading public health journal, Rhum and Katcher found that the SAMHSA favored less populous states, such as Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of New England. Less generously funded areas included Rust Belt states and Appalachia. 

The authors found that to achieve equity between all states, SAMHSA would need to redistribute $1.5 billion—or one-sixth—of its grant money. Ruhm and Katcher note that while it’s logical to assume that some states require more funding than others, their findings suggest that certain areas are receiving more support for reasons that have nothing to do with their level of need. The authors recommend that future grant targeting include “rigorous efforts to capture true differences in the severity of opioid problems across states.”

The paper may be viewed in the most recent edition of Health Affairs. Please continue to visit this page as new articles covering the paper’s findings are added.

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