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Holland Sentinel: Congress aims at opioid crisis with legislation to reform treatment, increase funding

Recognizing the need for a national response, Congress recently passed legislation aimed at curtailing what the Department of Health and Human Services labels “an unprecedented opioid epidemic.” On average, nearly 80 Americans die each day from overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids.

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Holland, August 16, 2016 | comments

The problem of opioid abuse extends far beyond West Michigan.

Recognizing the need for a national response, Congress recently passed legislation aimed at curtailing what the Department of Health and Human Services labels “an unprecedented opioid epidemic.” On average, nearly 80 Americans die each day from overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids, such as heroin.

It is estimated more than 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers and another 470,000 to heroin.

More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, according to the DHHS, and more than six in 10 of those deaths involved opioids. Use of heroine has been on the rise. Even more alarming is the widespread abuse of prescription pain medication.

“(America’s opioid problem) doesn’t really discriminate against any one demographic,” Jane Longstreet, a mental health program supervisor with Ottawa County, said. “It’s a pretty equal-opportunity drug.”

Congress’ legislation, signed by the president in late July, seeks to address opioid abuse from a number of different angles.

It establishes a national task force for reviewing and updating best-practice guidelines for pain management, as well as for exploring pain management alternatives to opioids.

The legislation also aims to sow federal funding into evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

“We have a thoughtful solution that attacks the opioid epidemic from all sides,” Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said. “One that zeroes in on treatment for addiction and overdoses, reforms prescribing practices and works with law enforcement. For folks suffering in Southwest Michigan and across America who are desperate for relief, help is on the way.”

Upton chairs the U.S. House's Energy and Commerce Committee, which passed the lower chamber's opioid legislation. He also led the House and Senate conference meeting that finalized the bill package.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told the Associated Press that the bill authorizes $181 million in new spending and expects another nearly $500 million for opioid-related programs in the next budget.

Otherwise enjoying wide bipartisan support, the bill did stir some controversy, as Democrats, including President Barack Obama, demanded Republicans ensure funding for its provisions rather than waiting for a future spending bill. Republicans dismissed the concern.

“This is an authorization bill,” Portman said, according to the New York Times. “It authorizes more money than we’ve ever dreamed about for opioids.”

Longstreet said she sees the legislation as “very encouraging.” She praised several of its regulation tweaks, including one that will increase access to medication-assisted therapy.

On the bill’s funding, Longstreet gave a reserved opinion.

“It sounds like a lot,” she said. “For a problem as big as this, I’m not sure what to compare that amount to. It’s a start.”


Read online, via the Holland Sentinel, HERE.
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