Congress is poised to pass legislation to combat a scourge of opioid addiction that claims at least 115 lives a day, even as some criticize the plan as coming up short.
The $8.4 billion proposal, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, seeks to prevent the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl from being shipped from China and Mexico through the U.S. Postal Service. It also would allow doctors to prescribe more medication such as Vivitrol and buprenorphine to wean addicts off opioids.
Lawmakers are readying a final version of the bill to send to President Donald Trump before the end of the year. But some say the plan, as written, lacks the money needed to make a dent in a wave of addiction that killed more than 70,000 Americans last year.
“Without real money, it’s just lip service,” said John Rosenthal, co-founder and chairman of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, to CNHI’s Christian M. Wade. “This disease has been raging for more than a decade without any serious federal response. Now they’re playing catch-up.”
Sarah Wakeman, the medical director for Mass General Hospital’s Substance Use Disorders Initiative, told the Washington Post that really targeting the depth of the opioid epidemic would require an infusion of federal dollars on par with the more than $20 billion a year spent on HIV/AIDs.
Rosenthal agreed and said there are “good things” in the bill, but it needs “billions” of dollars in money — similar to the federal response to cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Register earlier this year Congress has already devoted record resources to fight “this scourge” by securing more than $4 billion toward prevention, treatment and law enforcement efforts.
In a previous interview, McConnell said additional funding will continue with each spending bill that is passed.
“And just last week, President (Donald) Trump signed an appropriations bill that will provide more support for the fight against substance abuse and the devastating effects it has on communities in my state of Kentucky and across the country,” McConnell said. “This legislation includes $3.8 billion in opioid funding, a $206 million increase from the previous year.”
President Trump signed the appropriations bill on Friday.
The additional funding and resources proposed in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 would come at a good time. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and CDC, overdose deaths have spiked in the past four years and have nearly tripled since 2002.
Overdose deaths nationwide claimed more than 70,000 Americans. Of those deaths, nearly 48,000 were related to opioids, with the sharpest increase occurring among deaths related to illicitly made fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids).
In Kentucky, overdose deaths topped 1,500 in 2017.
“The landmark opioid legislation will help cut off the opioid crisis at its roots,” McConnell said. “It will stop more drugs at the border, improve interstate monitoring and encourage reform of prescription dosing. It will encourage recovery, through more resources for state and local responders, better access to care for patients and more support for the families and caregivers of those affected. And this legislation looks to the future, by supporting long-term medical research and economic solutions to get our country past this vicious cycle.”
Christian M. Wade contributed to this story.
Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.