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Idle opioid grant money highlights leadership problem

Money doesn’t solve problems, but it can accelerate solutions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to massive grants aimed at helping communities address one of our nation’s most pressing public health problems, that money was rendered idle for far too long.

We learned recently that tens of millions of dollars sent to Michigan and several other states to fund programs that help combat the opioid epidemic sat stagnant in state coffers. The money lingered during a period when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic drove a rise in substance abuse nationwide.

It’s a rise we witnessed firsthand as 911 call log data from counties across the Grand Traverse region showed a substantial increase in the number of calls for help when people overdosed.

Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating to watch gobs of money meant to fund organizations that help curb opioid-related deaths in our communities grind to a halt in our state’s bureaucratic coffers. And researchers who examined the slow flow say some of what was spent wasn’t particularly effective — it funded redundant, poorly attended training events and conferences.

Those millions don’t do anybody much good waylaid in state accounts as state officials scramble to find places to spend it.

But it’s the underlying problem the slow flow of grant money through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services signals that should concern us all.

Our nation is in the third wave of an addiction crisis that began in the 1990s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it has killed more than 450,000 Americans by overdose. The most recent, massive wave began in 2010 and drove our nation to a reckoning with its addiction to overprescribing painkillers.

The point is, the problem was no secret to public health officials, and the gush of money sent to help combat it didn’t simply appear without notice.

The inability of our state leaders — and many others — to move that money to where it’s needed most betrays overall lack of focus and leadership necessary to treat our country’s addiction problem.

Maybe addressing our opioid problem wasn’t a priority. Maybe nobody took the time to construct a meaningful plan. Maybe it simply wasn’t a politically rewarding enough issue to garner attention from our elected leaders.

It’s certainly a complex problem that won’t solve itself. And it’s clear it has received far too little leadership and attention during the past few years.

After all, money doesn’t solve problems, people do.

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