The U.S. Senate took a welcome turn last month in favor of treating the nation’s opioid addiction crisis for what it is — a matter of public health. Perhaps what’s most heartening about the Senate’s passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is that it wasn’t partisan; the bill passed by a vote of 94-1.
The bill would set up a series of grant programs to help state, local, and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and law enforcement agencies tackle different aspects of the addiction crisis.
One grant program would help communities experiencing higher-than-average substance use forge local prevention strategies. Another would support treatment-based alternatives to incarceration. And another would help law enforcement agencies purchase the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and train officers to administer it.
Perhaps most helpfully, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act emphasizes evidence-based treatment for opioid addictions. One grant program, for example, would help state and local governments or nonprofit organizations in areas with higher-than-average substance use expand access to medication-assisted treatment. Research has repeatedly shown that the most effective course of treatment for an opioid addiction combines medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or Suboxone with counseling.
Another grant program in the bill emphasizes medication-assisted treatment as part of a law enforcement strategy to reduce recidivism.
Of course, the bill isn’t perfect.
The Senate should have been more proactive in reducing the proliferation of pain medication prescriptions. Nearly half of young heroin users report using prescription opioids before beginning to use heroin, often because it’s cheaper and easier to obtain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued prescribing guidelines aimed at reducing unnecessary opioid prescriptions, but the Senate bill would duplicate much of the CDC’s work by establishing a federal government task force charged with developing best practices for pain management and opioid prescriptions. The legislation should instead have focused on physician training in the CDC-recommended protocols.
The most significant downfall, however, is that the Senate bill includes no funding for its range of grant programs. That’s because Senate Republicans rejected an amendment that would have attached $600 million in funding to the legislation.
Many of the bill’s provisions could still be funded as the Senate completes its appropriations process later this year. But if recent history is any guide, an omnibus spending bill will come together at the last minute — potentially in the lame duck session after this fall’s elections. That means a delay for any funding ultimately appropriated to tackle a national drug crisis that shows no sign of abating.
The legislation next moves to the House, where it has deep support in both parties.
The House is likely to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act by a similarly wide margin.
But it has to look at correcting the Senate’s mistakes, namely by attaching the funding the bill needs to make a dent in the nation’s heroin epidemic.
Cincinatti native David Bauer is an experienced editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.