Tackling the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Across the United States today, more than two million people have an opioid use disorder. As drug overdoses continue to increase nationwide, fewer and fewer families are left untouched by an epidemic that claims 130 lives in the United States each day.

“This started as a problem linked to prescription opioids in some parts of America,” said Dr. Grant Baldwin, director of the Division of Overdose Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Now it’s an everyone, everywhere problem. And, potent illicit opioids like fentanyl are more widely available and so lethal.”

To help address the epidemic, CDC and the CDC Foundation are working together with partners to provide resources, expertise and more capacity to communities across the country who are struggling with this surge of opioid overdoses and deaths.

As a part of the opioid response, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control funded nine organizations, including the CDC Foundation to tackle this public health crisis. CDC is providing technical assistance and support to 48 states and the District of Columbia. States facing the highest burden needed further capacity, including staffing and resources, and the CDC Foundation is working to meet this need.

To help provide capacity to state and local health departments and community-based organizations in 12 states, the CDC Foundation hired an extensive network of health professionals. These staff are assisting with many aspects of the essential public health response—including enhancing state and local capacity, giving clinicians the data, tools and resources they need to improve prescribing and building bridges and coordination across engaged sectors supporting access to treatment and long-term recovery.

In addition to this work, the CDC Foundation is working with Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with partners CDC, Johns Hopkins University, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Vital Strategies, to further strengthen state-based prevention and treatment efforts. The initiative uses a three-pronged approach to combat opioid overdoses by developing and implementing comprehensive public health plans, providing technical support to guide government policy and planning and developing tools to inform statewide policies and programs nationwide.

Dr. Grant Baldwin, director of the Division of Overdose Prevention at CDC

Anytime anyone has an opioid overdose, that is an opportunity to intervene.

The approach is designed to connect those on the frontlines of the opioid crisis at the community level—to identify gaps in services and support those struggling with opioid use disorder. By working with public health practitioners, healthcare professionals and law enforcement, the initiative aims to bolster local response capabilities through inter-agency collaboration while also helping communities reorient their thinking on opioids. Namely, that prevention works and recovery is possible.

“Anytime anyone has an opioid overdose, that is an opportunity to intervene,” Baldwin said. “Our approach is really centered on creating a safety net, linking people to comprehensive services, and leveraging what we know works. Beyond this, it is also about preventing overdoses from happening in the first place.”

Because states need real-time data to identify trends and detect high priority areas to better allocate resources, CDC and the CDC Foundation are also developing a toolkit that public health and safety teams can use to share and interpret opioid-related data. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the toolkit builds upon a highly collaborative model first developed in New York City to help local jurisdictions identify problem drug use patterns and characteristics. After an initial pilot phase and subsequent evaluation, the toolkit will be used by allied health professionals and other stakeholders across the country to learn collaboratively, share data and plan responses to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

“This model is great because it operates on the premise of shared accountability,” said Baldwin. “We partner around common goals and work with communities for the greater good—saving lives and preventing overdoses. We can all do more, especially working together.”

Given the scale of the opioid overdose epidemic—which is taking its toll on lives across societal, economic, racial and geographical lines throughout the United States—attitudes toward people struggling with opioid use disorder are slowly changing, Baldwin says. Opioid addiction is recognized increasingly as a chronic disease that requires treatment and combatting this addiction and its devastating impact on public health requires coordinated action on a national scale. Being part of that effort, Baldwin says, is what draws him to his work with CDC’s Division of Overdose Prevention.

“Having a substance use disorder prohibits someone from living to their full potential, and because there are things that we can do to intervene and turn the tide, I am very passionate about putting those things in place,” said Baldwin. “It’s just unacceptable to me for anyone to die of a drug overdose. It should never happen.”

The CDC Foundation is working with CDC to implement opioid prevention and response activities and programs. CDC employed novel and new Crisis Cooperative Agreements to fund jurisdictions and partner organizations to provide expert technical assistance and other support to entities engaged in a public health or healthcare crisis. CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control funded nine organizations, including the CDC Foundation, under CDC’s Center for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support Technical Assistance for Response to Public Health or Healthcare Crises external cooperative agreement (CDC-RFA-OT18-1804) to provide technical assistance and support to 48 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC Foundation’s support from CDC included full funding of $10,577,266. The CDC Foundation is also partnering with Bloomberg Philanthropies to equip states and localities with the tools necessary to prevent and respond to opioid overdoses through coordination of public health and public safety.

Read more voices of impact in our 2019 donor report.

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