In his second State of the Union address in 2018, President Trump acknowledged the “terrible crises of opioid and drug addiction” that has been plaguing the country for the past few years. In the address, he vowed that his administration's new policies in 2018 would help to curb the opioid epidemic in the country.
“In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses: 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge,” Trump said during the January address. “My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”
Despite the issue being highly bipartisan, drawing support from all sides and levels of government, action was limited. The last real progress made on the issue was in March when The White House unveiled the new CrisisNextDoor.gov website, meant for citizens all across the country to share their personal stories about the epidemic. However, that changed in late October when the president signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. A law that he says is the, “single largest bill to combat the drug crisis in the history of our country.”
SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act
The bill called the SUPPORT (Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment) for Patients and Communities Act was first introduced to the House of Representatives in June. It flew through the House and Senate in an uncharacteristic showing of mass bipartisan support. The bill received less than 20 “no” votes among the 509 members of Congress.
The new piece of legislation funnels money through multiple grant programs to address the growing opioid crisis. Some of the major issues the the bill hopes to deal with include:
- Increased monitoring and detection of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids
- Preventing addiction for susceptible seniors
- Increase access to Medicaid funding for substance abuse treatment
- Help pregnant women and new mothers receive treatment for opioid use disorder
- Expanding oversight of opioid prescriptions and payment
- Raising awareness about the influence that synthetic drugs can have
- Increased data sharing in regards to opioid abuse
- Developing protocols to prevent overdoses in emergency rooms
- Crackdown on the counterfeit drug industry
- Combat opioid-related infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C
- Curtail illegal drug importation
Following the passage of the bill, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, who introduced the bill, spoke on what the signing means.
“This bipartisan legislation brings critical support to the communities most desperately in need, provides new tools and resources for those on the ground in this fight, and helps stop the flow of deadly drugs across our borders,” he said. “Rarely can we say that legislation will save lives, but there is no doubt that this bill will do just that. While there is much more work to be done, today is an important step forward to help stem the tide…”
The opioid epidemic is a problem that has affected the entire country. Representatives from North Carolina to Oregon to Arizona all signed on as co-sponsors to help push this bill through Congress.
Kentucky is a state that has one of the highest drug overdose rates in the country and is one state that has been ravaged by the rise of fentanyl, killing twice as many people in 2017 compared to heroin.
Having seen the problems the opioid epidemic in his state, Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie went on to be one of the cosponsors of the bill.
After Trump signed the bill into law on October 24, Guthrie spoke about the reason for passing the bill and why he believes it can make a difference in the opioid fight against opioids.
“This is a crisis that affects everyone, and sadly, I have heard from Kentuckians in every corner of the Second District who have lost loved ones to opioid use disorder,” he said. “After hearing from folks around the country, particularly in states like Kentucky who have been hit hardest by this epidemic, Republicans and Democrats came together with comprehensive legislation that will help people recover from opioid use disorder and rebuild their lives.”
The law was similar to a opioid response bill that was introduced in the Senate earlier this year called the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The two pieces of legislation were merged into the law that was signed by the President in October
While the law just passed and results will not be seen immediately, the act does address some key problems with the opioid crisis. The act contains over fifty different pieces of legislation that are meant to attack different sources of the problem. There are four main angles the law takes to address the problems: prevention, treatment and recovery, protection of communities and fighting the fentanyl trade.
There are a few measures in the bill with the goal to prevent current and future abuse of opioids. One aspect of the prevention measures is increased data sharing. This will allow and help government organizations and agencies share information leading to more monitoring of prescription drugs.
The bill also features steps that the government and law enforcement will take to try to curb the amount of drug overdoses from opioids that has ballooned over the fast five years. One way they plan to do this is to increase the purchase of overdose reversal drugs that will be available.
Treatment and Recovery
One of the most important aspects of the SUPPORT bill include the sections dealing with treatment and recovery for those struggling with opioid abuse disorder. A part of this includes enhancement of opioid treatment programs. Under these new provisions, the Department of Health and Human Services was instructed to create and annual report through 2024 that looks at each U.S. State and territories and identifies the magnitude of the problem as well as the services that each area provides to their citizens.
Similarly, the bill instructs the Comptroller General of the country to conduct an assessment on the barriers that prevent or inhibit opioid abuse treatment. This will include how pharmacies and pharmacists obtain and prescribe substance use disorder treatment medications. The study will also look into Medicaid patients access to these medications and the costs and willingness of prescribing them.
As mentioned earlier, the bill also provides a plan that will help how pregnant women and mothers are able to receive treatment for substance abuse. Specifically, it allows calls for a look into the best practices for treatment for post discharge mothers and fathers with substance abuse disorders. Also, it will look to improve upon the treatment of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The bill calls for the use of recovery coaches, when appropriate, to encourage those individuals who experienced a non-fatal overdose to seek treatment for their substance abuse disorder to attempt to prevent cyclic addiction.
Protection of Communities
One thing the bill looks to do is establish a state substance abuse agency that offers treatment and services for individuals who have dealt with drug overdoses.
Grant money will be awarded to these entities to hire and utilize recovery coaches in support of the recovery process. They will also help patient get in contact with care services, treatment and support programs, peer networks, employers and housing services that will help them on their journey to recovery.
The bill includes a section titled, “Youth Prevention and Recovery Initiative”. As one might guess, this addition is meant to provide adolescents with a path to recovery and prevention. It details a program that will provide support for communities to support the “prevention of, treatment of, and recovery from, substance use disorders for children, adolescents, and young adults.” It instructs the Secretary of Education to identify and facilitate the development of the best practices for prevention of substance misuse. This includes targeting specific populations of youth such as foster care, homeless youth, out-of-school youth, and more.
The rise of fentanyl in the country is one of the many reasons the opioid crisis has been so destructive. According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl was responsible for almost 20,000 overdoses in 2016 and that number has only risen since then. Clearly, fentanyl is a major player in the opioid epidemic that has taken hold of the country over the past few years. However, the new bill hopes to put a damper on the impact that fentanyl has had.
Under the new law, a grant was given to the Department of Health and Human Services that will improve coordination between public health laboratories operated by government agencies to improve the detection of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. They will develop and identify the best practices for handling these drugs, look for and provide early warning to law enforcement officials regarding trends related to the supply of these opioids and provide testing for non-fatal exposure of the drugs to first responders and other emergency personnel.
Funding from the bill grants no more than $10 million for areas that have experience high seizures of fentanyl to purchase portable equipment to test for fentanyl and training law enforcement and first responders on the best ways to handle fentanyl and similar substances.
The bill will also look into determining whether federal workplaces will drug test for more opiate substances including fentanyl
These are a small percentage of the measures in the bill, there is much more that the bill covers in order to address this multifaceted issue.
Obviously, the bill is an ambitious effort by both parties to try to stop or at least slow down the opioid issue that affects more than 2 million people and killed more people than both guns and cars in 2017.
While this new law will most likely not solve the opioid crisis in its entirety, it is being hailed as a good first step toward a solution by local and national leaders as well as business owners and executives.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the the measure put into law promises help in the fight against drug addiction that is harming our country. He said that rural America is taking a beating from the opioid epidemic.
“Opioids are stalking rural America. Our farmers and ranchers once thought addiction was predominantly something cities had to deal with. Sadly, we know now that opioids are taking the lives of Americans from all walks of life. And unlike years ago, rural America is showing some of the highest rates of opioid addiction anywhere,” he said.
There is definitely more work that needs to be done in order to fully put a halt to the growing opioid epidemic but, at this point, anything would help. Even baby steps in the right direction are just that, steps in the right direction. We need more of them if this problem is going to come to an end. However, even after the root of the problem subsides, there will still be tens of thousands of people who will need help with recovery.
While this piece of legislation has flown through the House and Senate and signed by the president, it will take at least a handful of months before potential results are seen. However, if you or a loved one is going through issues related to substance abuse, you don’t have to wait that long. At Landmark Recovery, we look forward to seeing the positive impact of this type of legislation in the future, our phone lines are open ready to take your calls about drug treatment/alcohol treatment today.