Hey Congress: Opioid Abuse is Still an Emergency


March 29, 2016

OpioidImageMore Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes. That’s one of the reasons President Obama will be in Atlanta this afternoon speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, the largest national collaboration of local, state and federal agencies, business, academia, treatment providers, counselors and advocates impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. The President will be joined at the summit by the Surgeon General, the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Secretary of Agriculture, several members of Congress and many others.
To ensure that every American who wants treatment for opioid and heroin addiction can get the help they need, the Obama Administration included in its FY17 budget proposal $1.1 billion in new funding. The White House says most of this funding would go directly to states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment and counseling.

If the past few months are any indication, however, we shouldn’t start celebrating just yet. As we recently noted in a Head Smacker post, the majority in Congress isn’t in the mood to spend more money on anything lately, unless it’s for corporate tax breaks.

Even though the rate of opioid-related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2014, the Senate in February rejected a proposal from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would have provided $600 million in emergency supplemental funding to fight the epidemic. So while the Senate nearly-unanimously passed a bill that authorizes actions to fight opioid abuse, it doesn’t actually provide any funding to do so.

The Senate hasn’t been too quick to act on other emergency situations that need our attention, either. Children and adults are being poisoned in Flint, Michigan, and in other communities dealing with lead contamination. The number of young children in Flint with elevated blood lead levels has doubled. But Congress went home for its Easter recess without acting to help them. And they’re still insisting on finding cuts to pay for any help that may come later.

Congress has also yet to move on a request from the Obama Administration for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus in the U.S., insisting that any additional funding be made up for with cuts somewhere else. Major cuts to public health funding have already left health departments unable to deal with a serious outbreak of the Zika virus, which has a potentially disparate impact on low-income people.

The day after the opioid bill passed the Senate (without that emergency funding), Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced the department’s plan to award $94 million to health centers to improve access to substance abuse services, especially in underserved communities. The money will come from Affordable Care Act funding and will help awardees hire roughly 800 providers to support nearly 124,000 new patients. It’s a far cry from the $1.1 billion the President is seeking, but it’s better than the $0 Congress approved.

Let’s hope the President’s speech at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit will bring this epidemic back to the forefront of our national attention and will spur Congress to act on this and the other crises facing too many Americans.

If you haven’t yet done so, please take a minute and urge your Senators to act now to help Flint families.

Budget and Appropriations
emergency funding