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Can Money Alone Solve the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid crisis seems to be in the news headlines every day with reports of opioid overdoses and deaths. However, the harm of the opioid epidemic goes beyond individual deaths—impacting families, communities and economies. For example, the Centers for Disease Control has focused on pregnant mothers’ opioid use and the impact on their babies while the National Institutes of Health has prioritized research on the spread of HIV from needle sharing. These and other problems related to opioid use are taking an economic toll, with the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimating recently that the annual cost of the opioid crisis totals $504 billion in the United States alone.

The federal government has recognized the urgent need for resources and has allocated funding for new treatment programs, clinical research and other initiatives to address the opioid crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the federal agency responsible for addressing emergent substance abuse and mental health issues in the United States. SAMHSA has allocated over $1 billion to states and tribal communities so that these parties can provide evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorders. To disperse this funding, the State Opioid Response (SOR) grants program was created in 2018 to provide funding for opioid treatment and prevention programs to all 50 states as well as tribal communities.

Despite this appropriate and admirable response to the national crisis, many states don’t have the resources to manage this influx of funding. Some states may lack the administrative or clinical workforce to scale up their services to the level their new funding would support. In addition, states are struggling to meet the federal reporting requirements that come along with their new SOR funding. When states can’t implement funding successfully, treatment and prevention programs may lack the guidance and training needed to effectively treat individuals addicted to opioids. Not only could this affect the health of individuals with opioid use disorder, but Congress may also interpret it as a misuse of their funding. As a result, Congress could then potentially cut funds or impose more stringent requirements, making it more difficult for states to access funding to help combat the opioid crisis.

To help confront these challenges and many others, RTI International is well positioned to partner with states in implementing their SOR grants. We have worked together with SAMHSA for decades to manage and analyze data from service demonstration sites and evaluate substance abuse treatment programs. Some of our notable work includes the following:

With our experience, we can mobilize quickly to assist states and tribal communities with workforce challenges, managing the data that SAMHSA requires them to collect as part of SOR and TOR programs and—ultimately—understanding their data and responding accordingly.

The 2019 federal budget ensures that generous funding for state and tribal opioid response will continue. SAMHSA has again allocated over $1 billion for SOR and TOR grants this year. We invite state and tribal administrators who are considering how to make the best use of their SOR or TOR funding to review our SOR and TOR services to see the many ways in which we can support their efforts. By partnering with RTI, states can have confidence that they are implementing their programs with integrity, achieving their intended results and using their data to continuously improve their programs.

Interested in learning more about how RTI can support your state or tribal opioid response efforts? Contact Carol Council at ccouncil@rti.org.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Leyla Stambaugh (Senior Research Psychologist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.