Skip to main content

Michael Bloomberg Announces $50 Million Investment to Address the Opioid Epidemic in the United States

New CDC figures show latest decline in U.S. life expectancy tied to record number of drug and opioid overdose deaths

New partnership focused on identifying novel approaches and gaps in current treatment and prevention programs; Pennsylvania, with highest number of U.S. drug deaths, selected as first of up to 10 states for three-year funding program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the heels of new data showing an alarming decline in U.S. life expectancy over the past three years, Bloomberg Philanthropies today announced a $50 million investment in combatting the nation’s opioid epidemic. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the CDC Foundation—will help up to 10 states over the next three years implement solutions to strengthen prevention and treatment efforts that offer the most potential to address the root causes of opioid addiction and save lives.

New CDC data show there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, including more than 47,000 from opioid overdoses. These are the highest numbers on record and a leading factor in the decline of U.S. life expectancy over the past three years. Today, more than two million people in the United States are addicted to opioids, which are responsible for more than 130 deaths in America per day.

“We are experiencing a national crisis: For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years—and opioids are a big reason why. We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue—not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies Founder and WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, who will announce the funding during his keynote address today at The Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington, D.C. “Today we are launching a groundbreaking new partnership with state and local leaders that aims to expand treatment for those who need it and save lives. We hope our work in Pennsylvania—one of the hardest hit states in the nation—will lay the groundwork for more effective action across the country.”

The new partnership is focused on identifying novel approaches as well as gaps in current treatment and prevention programs, working closely with states and additional experts from the CDC, academia and other innovators to evaluate and track the impact of new interventions. Bloomberg Philanthropies will select up to 10 states affected by high rates of opioid use to receive three years of funding and support—including by embedding staff from partner organizations in government agencies to support state- and local-led interventions to reduce opioid-related deaths. Ultimately, the initiative will draw upon initial learnings to create replicable products and guidelines that can be used in other states, creating a model for the rest of the nation.

States will have broad latitude in the three-year period to decide how to prioritize interventions, with support tailored to specific approaches. For example, if a state decides to emphasize emergency and long-term treatment, experts could assist in implementing plans to expand the use and availability of naloxone and expand the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as buprenorphine in jails and hospitals to treat inmates and patients with substance use disorder.

Pennsylvania has been selected as the first state to participate in the initiative and will receive at least $10 million in funding to reduce opioid deaths. Nearly 5,400 Pennsylvania residents died of drug overdoses in 2017—by comparison, approximately 3,300 Pennsylvanians died from homicides between 2012-2016. Pennsylvania had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2017 among all U.S. states and twice as many compared to 2014. Pennsylvania’s rate of 44.3 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population is more than double the national average.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis for Pennsylvania and the nation that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania. “We are deeply grateful for the financial and technical resources that we will receive through this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies to complement our existing efforts. From our first responders and health care professionals to teachers and social service providers, heroes across our commonwealth are saving lives and protecting residents in our communities every day from this awful scourge. We are doing everything we can to help them, and I am confident that this partnership will mark a turning point in our efforts.”

The United States has the highest opioid prescription rate in the world and needs more robust and coordinated emergency and long-term medical interventions to help manage and address this crisis. Drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl rose from 19,413 in 2016 to 28,466 in 2017, a 47 percent increase. According to a recent report, only eight percent of U.S. counties maintain overdose education and naloxone distribution programs, and only 10 percent of people in the United States who need treatment for substance use disorder are able to obtain medical treatment. Barriers to access and affordability are compounded by a lack of data reporting and minimal evaluation of the efficacy of proposed solutions. As part of this opioids initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies will help with the development of tools and guidelines for multiple types of interventions, such as treatment standards, that can be implemented in states across the country.

The announcement is taking place at the inaugural Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington, D.C., an event bringing together innovators who are creatively tackling some of the nation’s most pressing public health challenges. The Summit is organized by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, created in 2016 with a $300 million gift to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Initiative works to apply public health tools and strategies to five critical challenges facing American communities—Addiction and Overdose; Environmental Challenges; Risks to Adolescent Health; Violence; and Obesity and the Food System.

“The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States is a large-scale emergency, one that is too large for any individual organization or sector to tackle alone,” said Judith Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “That’s why it is vital for partners to work across the government, philanthropic and private sectors to address this emergency, while ensuring that investments are complementary and utilize data and extend practices known to be effective. Together we can reduce the number of deaths from opioid overdose.”

“Unlike other public health issues in the United States that are getting better, the problem of overdose has been getting worse,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies. “We all understand the gravity of this issue, but we need to maximize our ability to solve it. That is why we are honored to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies in the effort to better equip states to reduce harms and save lives by leveraging existing resources and tailoring solutions to the unique needs and challenges of their communities.”

“We look forward to working with Bloomberg Philanthropies to help states adopt evidence-based policies that will expand access to treatment and reduce overdose deaths,” said Allan Coukell, senior director of health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Curbing this public health crisis requires that a variety of stakeholders—including first responders, medical and behavioral health providers, correctional facilities, and policymakers—coordinate their efforts to build treatment systems that ensure that individuals with opioid use disorder get the help they need.”

“Communities across the country are taking innovative steps to address the opioid epidemic. Evaluating the efficacy of these approaches will help us determine which ones should be scaled up and implemented across the board,” said Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, MSc, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As the home of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, we are eager to do our part to help translate research into life-saving action.”

# # #

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies works in 480 cities in more than 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2017, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $702 million. For more information, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.