Health Secretary to Miami Valley: ‘You are not alone’ in opioid fight

Fighting the opioid epidemic is an urgent priority for the federal government, according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, with billions of dollars being poured into expanding access to proven treatments and researching alternative pain medicines.

One day after the White House’s opioid summit, Azar visited the Miami Valley for a listening session with those fighting the drug epidemic locally.

During a round-table at Brigid’s Path, an inpatient care facility in Kettering for newborns suffering from prenatal drug exposure, Azar got to hear from Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi, children services representatives and local families and children who have been affected by opioid addiction.

READ MORE: Ohio’s first center for drug-addicted babies opens in Kettering

“America needs to hear these stories,” Azar said. “These voices help inform everything that we do at the federal level.”

As HHS secretary, Azar oversees the FDA, the CDC, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health, all agencies that are working together to reduce overdose deaths and improve health outcomes for Americans, he said.

During the summit and Friday’s meeting in Kettering, he’s been struck by the ongoing nature of the struggle faced by those with substance abuse disorder, Azar said.

PHOTOS: Health and Human Services Secretary visits Dayton

At the recent National Governors Association’s winter meeting, Azar touted medication-assisted treatment as crucial for stemming the opioid epidemic. And MAT is not a short-term solution, he said.

“Individuals may end up being on medical assisted treatment long after they are in a residential program or an outpatient program,” Azar said. “Indeed they might be on medical assisted treatment for the duration of their life.”

Currently only about one-third of substance abuse treatment programs nationwide offer MAT, he said.

“That’s something that I’m hopeful through the $13 billion historic package that we’re putting out of funding to the states and local governments, that additional medical assisted treatment will become available,” he said.

Of the $13 billion the White House says it will ask Congress for over two years for opioid prevention, treatment and long-term recovery, $3 billion would be used to double targeted grants to states for addiction treatment in 2019, Azar said.

RELATED: Trump looks to boost spending on military, opioid fight, border wall

He also highlighted $750 million being spent for the NIH and private partners to research alternative ways to treat pain without opioids. The FDA is working on streamlined processes to get those treatments tested, approved and on the market more quickly.

Brigid’s Path’s Executive Director Jill Kingston thanked Azar for listening to their concerns, especially about seeking the ability to bill Medicaid for their services.

“It would sustain Brigid’s Path and we’d be able to help more babies,” Kingston said.

RELATED: Pregnant inmates have local jails scrambling to provide care 

Turner is a co-sponsor on a bill called the Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies(CRIB) Act, which has a companion bill in the Senate co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. It would allow residential pediatric recovery centers like Brigid’s Path to be recognized providers under Medicaid.

Turner is also sponsoring the The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act in the House which would allow Medicaid coverage for addiction treatment to inmates in jails and prisons. Currently individuals lose their Medicaid coverage when they become incarcerated.

“They can come back out without having had treatment, and they’re going to of course, go back to the addiction,” Turner said.

RELATED: Women living with babies in prison

In visiting the Dayton region, which is has been particularly hard hit by overdose deaths and the collateral damage of opioid use, Azar said he wants to let Ohioans know they are not alone.

“Your president is with you,” he said. “Donald Trump is firmly committed… He is taking it personally and incredibly seriously.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Community News

Elderly woman navigates busy traffic in Memphis on mobility scooter
Elderly woman navigates busy traffic in Memphis on mobility scooter

A woman alarmed drivers in Memphis on Friday night as she drove a mobility scooter onto a dangerous highway. The woman, who appeared to be in her 70s or 80s, was seen driving around 7 p.m. The incident was recorded live on Facebook.  The video was being filmed as a cry for help. Facebook user, Towanna Murphy, asked her friends to please share...
Excellence in Teaching: GISA teacher wants to improve students’ lives
Excellence in Teaching: GISA teacher wants to improve students’ lives

Global Impact STEM Academy teacher Anton Kilburn knew he wanted to be a teacher by the time he was in eighth grade. “I knew that there were very few jobs where have you had the ability to interact with hundreds of people every day in hopes of making an impact or improve their lives as well,” Kilburn said. Kilburn is a high school environmental...
Your questions answered about the opioid epidemic
Your questions answered about the opioid epidemic

Many who attended the recent forums on opioids held throughout the Miami Valley by Your Voice Ohio and this newspaper submitted questions about the epidemic. Here are some of the answers to those questions. Q: How are the drugs coming into our country? A variety of ways. Heroin may first enter the country through underground tunnels or in secret compartments...
Video shows family getting kicked off Southwest flight
Video shows family getting kicked off Southwest flight

A video showing a family being escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane just before takeoff at Chicago’s Midway International Airport has has gone viral, WGN reported. Alexis Armstrong, 24, filmed part of the incident on her cellphone. The video showed attendants telling a couple and their 2-year-old daughter to leave after the child had...
State program aims to keep bees safe from pesticides
State program aims to keep bees safe from pesticides

In an effort to prevent honeybee kills from toxic pesticides, the state is rolling out a new program to help beekeepers, farmers, and chemical sprayers to communicate and see where active hives are located. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is partnering with FieldWatch, a national not-for-profit organization that maintains beehive registries and...
More Stories