Michael Bloomberg announced today that he will spend $120million to help reduce drug overdose deaths. This pledge is more than twice the $50 million philanthropic pledge he made in 2018 to the same goal.
Bloomberg's pledge comes after a preliminary report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 93,000 people died in 2020 from overdoses, with the majority of these deaths due to opioids. The pandemic's first year saw a 30% increase in deaths compared to 2019, which was the highest single-year total.
Kelly J. Henning (who leads the Bloomberg Philanthropies' public-health program) stated that "we're clearly moving in the wrong direction."
Henning believes that the Overdose Prevention Initiative's original commitment to Bloomberg has made a difference. Bloomberg funded projects in Pennsylvania to curb substance abuse in prisons, and provided naloxone to firefighters and police departments. The Pennsylvania overdose death rate was approximately half that of the national average. Naloxone can also be used to treat overdoses in emergency situations.
Bloomberg supported the creation of an online portal by the Michigan Department of Health for ordering naloxone. It also supported a media campaign to lower stigma and encourage people to recover from addiction.
This new contribution from the philanthropy will provide $10 million per year over five years for programs in Kentucky. New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina. The continuing efforts in Pennsylvania, Michigan will be augmented by $4 million each.
Bloomberg will also help its partners in this effort: The CDC Foundation and the Global Health Advocacy Incubator at Johns Hopkins University, Vital Strategies, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Henning stated that the philanthropic response is in addition to a greater federal investment in drug overdose prevention. The March implementation of the government's American Rescue Plan includes $4 billion for substance-disorder and mental health treatment. The federal government also made it easier for groups to distribute buprenorphine to help with opioid abuse. In addition, the Biden administration increased the number jurisdictions that are eligible for more police work through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDA) program.
All of this money is "drops in an ocean" when compared to the need, according to Michael Barnett, an assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Before the Bloomberg announcement, Chan School of Public Health spoke.
Although opioid abuse has been primarily a problem in rural areas and whites, Barnett stated that the epidemic is becoming more dangerous for a wider population. He said that the pandemic likely accelerated the problem by encouraging drug use.
He said that people face financial hardships, mass unemployment, isolation and the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of the pandemic. "All of these things can test any person's ability to resist addiction."
Henning said that the Bloomberg commitment could complement federal dollars going to the states. Federal grants often have strings attached, and philanthropic support can be put to use much faster by state health-and-human-services agencies.
Henning stated that sometimes, Henning didn't believe they had the staff to develop the federal plan.
Bloomberg is one of the most prominent national grant-makers that has placed a high priority to reducing drug overdoses. The Conrad Hilton Foundation, which focuses on prevention of drug abuse among young people, as well as the Clinton Foundation, have been involved in this effort. They also brought together faith leaders to press for change.
Christian Thrasher is the senior director of substance abuse disorders and recovery at the Clinton Foundation. He said that the foundation has partnered with non-profits such as Direct Relief, Voices Project and the National Alliance for Recovery Residences to increase its distribution of Naloxone.
The McKesson pharmaceutical company established a $100 million nonprofit called the Foundation for Opioid Response Strategies. Karen Scott, the president of the nonprofit, stated that there is a lack of a national effort to prevent overdoses.
She said that there has been a greater focus on the issue by local or regional foundations.
Henning of Bloomberg agrees with Henning that the issue is not a top priority for many national philanthropies. She explained that it can be difficult to achieve success.
She said, "It feels somewhat difficult." "People don’t believe that there are any strategies that could improve the situation."