Much to the excitement of addiction recovery advocates and after a time stalled in Congress, lawmakers are finally close to passing a hefty bill to combat opioid abuse. The measure would combine law enforcement and public health measures, and includes initiatives and funding to help make addiction recovery services more accessible to people with opioid use disorder. If passed, the law will be the most comprehensive action to date to deal with the opioid epidemic.
The bill is a rare bipartisan effort in a time where many initiatives have stalled entirely due to the deep political divides in both the House and the Senate. The bill itself stalled in the House of Representatives earlier because Democrats objected to a part of the law that would benefit a group tied to the pharmaceutical industry that helped create the epidemic of addiction that our country faces today.
Finally, a compromise was reached in the Senate this week removing the provision, and the bill was modified to focus on a variety of other efforts, including:
- Attacking illegally imported drugs by creating a new type of cooperation between the federal Food and Drug Administration and Customs and Border Protection.
- Providing the Postal Service with tools and equipment to detect and stop illegal shipments of synthetic compounds like fentanyl from coming into the country.
- Providing money to increase boost research on non-opioid pain treatments
- Make substance-abuse therapy more accessible to Medicare via telemedicine services.
- Create a pilot program of Medicare coverage for opioid addiction treatment.
- Give more access to medication-assisted treatment by lifting a cap on the number of patients (from 100 to 275) that a qualified doctor can prescribe drugs like Suboxone, a drug that helps limit opioid cravings and ease the physical pain of withdrawal.
- Authorize $500 million per year through 2021 for new grants to help states fight opioid addiction.
- Create new grants to be used by the Department of Health and Human Services to develop to help support addicts in recovery in their transition to independent living. It would also help create job programs for them.
- Launch a pilot program that would provide temporary sober housing for people in recovery.
Although addiction recovery advocates say that the bill still doesn’t provide the states with enough money, it’s a good step towards combating the opioid addiction epidemic. Some of the funds may be matched in the states to help round out the costs.
The Senate expects to vote on the legislation next week.