“What we think we can do with $50 million is show the way in these 10 states,” Bloomberg said in an interview. “If they do things that we think make sense, then we will help fund it.”
Bloomberg’s announcement came the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the nation’s drug epidemic escalated again in 2017, when a record 70,237 people died of overdoses. Opioid overdose deaths also set an annual high, at 47,600.
Along with the rising suicide rate, the unprecedented number of drug deaths helped lower life expectancy in the United States in 2017, part of a three-year decline not seen in a century.
Bloomberg, 76, who has a net worth of about $50 billion, is considering a run for president in 2020 as a centrist Democrat. He spent $115 million helping Democrats win midterm House and Senate races, and earlier this month gave Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater, $1.8 billion to fund a permanent program of need-blind admission.
New Hampshire, where the first primary vote is held in presidential election years, is among the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis. In the interview, Bloomberg said there was no connection between the new initiative and his political ambitions.
Pennsylvania, which suffered 5,388 drug overdose deaths in 2017, more than any other state, will receive the first grant, expected to total more than $10 million over three years. Bloomberg also plans to provide staff from partner agencies to help state programs.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said he anticipates the money will go toward numerous efforts already underway in Pennsylvania. That could include wider distribution of naloxone, the fast-acting antidote for opioid overdoses, or expanding the state’s network of 45 centers where users find help navigating the medical system and accessing treatment, he said.
“I think Bloomberg Philanthropies was looking for a commonwealth or a state that was actually doing something,” Wolf said. “What I would hope is we can use the $10 million as a really generous add-on to the kinds of things we’re already doing.”
Wolf said he opposes development of supervised drug consumption sites , the controversial centers where users are monitored while they inject or smoke drugs to prevent overdose deaths. Philadelphia officials and a nonprofit organization that includes former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell have said they would like to open such a facility.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein has promised swift action against supervised sites, which violate current federal law.
The CDC, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Hopkins and Vital Strategies — a nonprofit that works to improve public health — will also take part in the Bloomberg program.