21st Century Cures Act Promises $1 Billion to Address Opioid Epidemic

By McCarton Ackerman 12/07/16

After passing the Senate on Monday afternoon, the bill is now headed to President Obama for final approval.

21st Century Cures Act Promises $1 Billion to Address Opioid Epidemic

Opioid addiction treatment is about get a significant overhaul in the U.S. after the Senate approved a groundbreaking multi-billion dollar health innovation bill.

The measure, known as the 21st Century Cures Act, comfortably cleared the House by 392-26 and was cleared 85-13 on Monday afternoon by the Senate, receiving wide bipartisan support. Because the Obama administration has expressed support for the bill, it's almost a guarantee it will receive his signature in the coming days.

USA Today reported that the $6.3 billion bill will provide $1 billion in funding over the next two years for opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs, in addition to $4.8 billion over the next decade to the National Institute of Health for research on a wide range of illnesses and diseases.

“This legislation can help create real change for the millions of Americans impacted by the opioid crisis,” said the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose in a statement. 

In addition to the significant increase in funding for opioid treatment, the legislation calls for a mental health and substance abuse “policy laboratory” to help advocate for better treatment of these diseases. It will also speed up the FDA’s drug approval process and strengthen existing laws that require insurers to cover mental health issues in the same way they do other diseases. The 996-page bill also includes several other smaller provisions related to substance abuse, electronic medical records and suicide prevention.

But not everyone is on board with the legislation, with Bernie Sanders voting to not end debate on the bill. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a staunch Democrat, said she couldn’t sign the bill because it caters to the interests of pharmaceutical companies. Speaking on the Senate floor, she vowed to fight it “because I know the difference compromise and extortion.”

Warren also called the funding allotted for the NIH “a fig leaf,” or an insignificant amount. She also insisted that “most of that fig leaf isn’t even real. Most of the money won’t really be there unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to spend those dollars.”

Several states have already taken matters into their own hands to address the opioid crisis. Virginia’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Marissa Levine, issued a blanket prescription last month for anyone in the state to access naloxone. She also declared opioid abuse a public health emergency in the state. 

Earlier this month, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine announced that the state had made a deal with Adapt Pharma, which makes the Narcan nasal spray, to freeze the price across the state for one year. A carton of two, 4 mg doses will remain at $75, down 40% from the wholesale acquisition price of $125.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.