The Biden administration designated $ 25.6 million to give entities combating the overdose epidemic medication-assisted treatments, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told McClatchy on Tuesday.

The grants aim to make medication-assisted treatment more widely available for opioid-use disorder and prescription drug misuse, according to the federal agency. Grants will be available through two new programs under the department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration division.

“Every five minutes someone in our nation dies from an overdose,” Becerra said in an emailed statement. “This is unacceptable.”

More than 104,000 Americans died of overdoses in a 12-month period ending September 2021, according to the National Center for Health Statistics – the most in one year on record and a jump of almost 30% from the previous 12-month span. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused two-thirds of those deaths.

In California, San Francisco, Nevada, Lake, Mendocino and Kern counties had the highest opioid overdose death rates in 2020, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is often laced into counterfeit pills unawares to the buyer, will claim the lives of more Sacramento County residents than homicide this year, a Sacramento Bee analysis found.

The two grant programs – the Strategic Prevention Framework for Prescription Drugs, SPF Rx, and Medication-Assisted Treatment – Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction, MAT-PDOA – are open to applicants until April 25 and April 29, respectively.

SPF Rx will fund six grantees $ 3 million over five years to raise awareness about the dangers of sharing medications, counterfeit pills and over-prescribing. Grantees must be stage agencies, territories or tribal entities that have completed a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant, which California’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs has, or a similar state plan. Each awardee can receive up to $ 500,000 per year.

MAT-PDOA will increase and expand access to medications for opioid use disorders to help decrease both illicit and prescription opioid misuse. Thirty grantees will receive a portion of $ 22.6 million over five years, no less than $ 11 million of which will go to Native American tribes or tribal organizations. Awardees can get up to $ 750,000 per year.

“This funding will enhance efforts underway throughout our nation to get help to Americans who need it,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, who leads SAMHSA. “Expanding access to evidence-based treatments and supports for individuals struggling with opioid use disorder has never been more critical.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications to treat opioid use disorders.

Nalaxone is a life-saving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

Buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone can relieve withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body, per the FDA.

These alternatives, taken alongside physician-directed therapy, can aid with reducing dependency on short-acting opioids, such as heroin, morphine and codeine, and semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

President Joe Biden has called for universal access to these medications by 2025.

The federal grant programs are some of several steps that the Biden administration is taking to tackle drug abuse and the mental health crisis. The president’s 2022 budget gave the Department of Health and Human Services $ 10.7 billion in discretionary funding for research, prevention and treatment services to quell the opioid epidemic; it also gave $ 621 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Opioid Prevention and Treatment programs.

“There’s so much we can do: increase funding for prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery; get rid of outdated rules … that stop doctors from prescribing treatments; stop the flow of illicit drugs by working with state and local law enforcement to go after the traffickers, ”Biden said in his State of the Union address.

The US Department of Health and Human Services kicked off a “National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health” following Biden’s State of the Union address.

As part of the national tour, Becerra visited officials across California over the last week to discuss mental health and substance abuse challenges and solutions. He traveled from Southern California northward, discussing intertwined issues such as homelessness, abortion access and COVID-19 vaccinations with local leaders.

Becerra, who was California’s attorney general before Biden tapped him to lead the federal agency, said that the administration was continuing to learn about “new and innovative ways” the US Department of Health and Human Service could support local communities struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.

The US Department of Health and Human Services dubbed their approach to reducing opioid overdoses nationwide the Overdose Prevention Strategy.

“Together, through our Overdose Prevention Strategy and National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health, we can change the way we address overdoses and save lives,” Becerra said.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance abuse addiction, you can reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357 or visit findtreatment.gov.

This story was originally published March 15, 2022 8:00 AM.

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Gillian Brassil is the congressional reporter for McClatchy’s California publications. She covers federal policies, people and issues that impact the Golden State from Capitol Hill. She graduated from Stanford University.

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