How to target opioid funding to states that need it most

Photo courtesy of The Hill.
Photo courtesy of The Hill. (iStock)

More than 840,000 Americans died from drug deaths in the past two decades, and 60 percent of those deaths involved opioids. One recent study estimated the societal costs of opioid use disorder and fatal opioid overdoses at over $1 trillion in 2017 alone. 

This national crisis has spurred state and local governments to foster opioid misuse prevention, treatment, education and monitoring. The federal government has responded to the situation in a range of ways, including by offering financial support to states for their efforts. However, until recently, it was not well understood how well these federal funds were targeting the geographic areas with the greatest need.

A study that I conducted with Bradley Katcher aimed to close this knowledge gap. In it, we compared the amount of federal grant money awarded to each state in 2017 and 2018 to the severity of the states’ opioid problems. To do this, we constructed a database of opioid-related grants from the federal government that were geographically targeted. Using our preferred measure of opioid severity — which combined the prevalence of opioid-involved drug deaths with the level of opioid misuse — we determined that around one-sixth of the funds meeting our inclusion criteria, or approximately $1.5 billion, would have needed to be reallocated in order to distribute funding in a way that was actually equitable.

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Christopher J. Ruhm

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