Senate Passes Sweeping Opioid Legislation, Treatment Advocates Unimpressed

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Senate Passes Sweeping Opioid Legislation, Treatment Advocates Unimpressed

By Victoria Kim 09/19/18

“None of the bills include providing the one thing communities hit by the opioid crisis need most: funding,” says one treatment advocate.

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A bipartisan effort to stem the opioid crisis, while impressive in scope, does not have what it takes to stem the national opioid crisis, say treatment advocates.

On Monday (Sept. 17), the Senate passed a package of 70 bills—racking up a cost of $8.4 billion—with a 99-to-1 vote to address various aspects of the opioid crisis. The lone dissenter was Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

The goal was to tackle the opioid crisis from multiple angles—like expanding access to treatment and thwarting shipments of illicit drugs from abroad—but not everyone is impressed with the expansive legislation.

Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents American health care organizations that deliver mental health and substance use disorder services, expressed her organization’s disappointment that “Congress missed this opportunity to make a meaningful, long-term investment in our nation’s addiction treatment system.”

One way to accomplish this, Rosenberg says, would be to include the the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act, a bill that would expand a current program that has shown success in improving access to addiction treatment services.

The package of bills passed in the Senate, however, falls short of their expectations. “None of the bills include providing the one thing communities hit by the opioid crisis need most: funding,” wrote Rosenberg in a statement. “Nor do they offer a comprehensive solution to the country’s addiction crisis.”

The legislative package includes various measures intended to fight substance abuse. They include expanding access to opioid-addiction medication (like buprenorphine); funding recovery centers that provide temporary housing, job training, and other support during a transition to recovery; expanding the scope of mental health professionals where they are in short supply; expanding first responder naloxone programs; and preventing illicit drugs from being shipped via the U.S. Postal Service.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio admitted that the legislation does have missing pieces. “It doesn’t include everything all of us want to see but it has important new initiatives and it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “Congress is committing itself to actually putting politics aside. It’s not just bipartisan—I think it’s nonpartisan.”

According to the Post, the House passed a similar measure in June. Now the two chambers will go over the differences before sending the package off to Trump.

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