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In Passing Opioid Legislation, the House Opts for Quantity Over Quality

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives continued on with its prodigious passage of opioid crisis-related legislation, passing 37 separate bills designed to address the issue from a wide variety of angles. However, while the House has certainly not been lacking in terms of the quantity of opioid bills passed as of late, the quality of said bills—or at the very least their relative impact on a crisis that takes the lives of 115 people every day in the United States—is still in doubt.

Included among the myriad measures advanced by the House this week to address the opioid crisis was legislation aimed at limiting the supply of opioids into the general population through the incentivization of innovations into non-addictive pain treatments and harsher criminalization of the importation of illicit drugs like fentanyl, along with bills looking to expand access to treatment and improve best practices for providers looking to curb opioid misuse. The vast majority of these bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but, due in large part to the lack of significant funding increases attached to this recent batch of legislation, their impact on the meteoric rise in drug overdose deaths and substance use disorders will likely be limited.

Among the more substantive and bipartisan measures that passed were the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act of 2018 (H.R. 5327), which would start a grant program to fund at least 10 comprehensive opioid centers across the country, the Peer Support Specialist Recovery Act (H.R. 5587), which authorizes $75 million for peer support technical assistance centers, and the Eliminating Opioid Related Infectious Diseases Act of 2018 (H.R. 5353), which provides $40 million annually for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thursday, a pair of more contentious bills—the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act of 2018 and the Transitional Housing for Recovery in Viable Environments (THRIVE) Demonstration Program Act—passed with considerable Democratic opposition. The STOP Act would impose penalties on the U.S. Postal Service if it failed to collect advance electronic data on international shipments in an effort to reduce the shipment of illicit synthetic drugs while the THRIVE Act would take away existing funding from the Section 8 housing voucher program for a demonstration program aimed at providing transitional housing for people with substance use disorders.

“Collectively these bills do not go far enough in providing the resources necessary for an epidemic of this magnitude,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and has been a consistent critic of what he and many substance use disorder experts see as an insufficient, piecemeal approach to the opioid crisis.

“We know what works”, remarked Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen in a statement on the House’s legislative efforts on the opioid crisis earlier this week. “We don’t have a shortage of ideas. We have a shortage of resources [and] the majority of the bills currently being considered are tinkering around the edges. Many present short-term or small fixes that will not allow frontline providers to address the epidemic in the way we know is necessary.”

AIDS United understands the nation’s opioid crisis as a public health emergency and considers the heartbreaking death toll - 64,000 people died of drug overdose in 2016 - as a consequence of the country’s systematic failure to align behavioral and public health efforts and to interrupt the failed system of criminalizing drug use. AIDS United strongly endorses Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings’ Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 2018, which would authorize significant, long-term funding for local strategies that reduce fatal overdoses, increase substance use treatment, and address the infectious disease consequences of the opioid crisis, and encourages Congress to sustain a robust federally supported Medicaid Program.

The House will continue voting on opioid-related measures next week, meanwhile the Administration appears to be abandoning millions of Americans who need treatment or are affected by chronic or pre-existing conditions, who rely on the Affordable Care Act for access to critical, affordable health care coverage.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, June 15, 2018

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