On Oct. 24, President Donald J. Trump signed into law a legislative package, called the Support for Patients and Communities Act, intended to assuage the opioid epidemic. Trump said that the bill is the largest to combat a drug crisis in U.S. history.
Moments before signing the legislation, Trump said that the measure should reduce the effects of the opioid crisis, an epidemic that kills 115 people each day.
“Together, we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said, via NBC News. “Or at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.”
The Support for Patients and Communities Act incorporates dozens of proposals that were sponsored by various lawmakers for reducing the opioid crisis. This package of bills allocates funding to states and federal agencies for prevention, treatment and recovery resources.
The bill aims to boost access to addiction treatment and reduce the overprescription of prescription opioids, like Vicodin and Percocet. It also increases access to medication-assisted treatment for people experiencing addiction.
A significant aspect of the act is that it reverses a rule that prohibited Medicaid from covering individuals with a substance use disorder who were attending a mental health center with more than 16 beds. The bill allows Medicaid recipients to receive 30 days of treatment coverage.
However, some medical experts say that the bill fails to offer the funding needed to alleviate this deadly drug epidemic. Although Congress has invested $8.5 million in opioid-related resources and programs this year, funding has yet to be guaranteed for future years.
Bill Receives Rare Bipartisan Support
With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Support for Patients and Communities Act passed the Senate with a 98 to 1 vote. Utah Sen. Mike Lee was the only senator to oppose it. The House passed its version of the bill with a vote of 393 to 8.
Keith Humphries is a drug expert at Stanford University who collaborated with Congress in creating the package. He said that congressional Democrats and Republicans put their differences aside to pass the bill.
“That’s impressive that, at least on this issue, they were able to collaborate in a way they haven’t been able to do on anything else,” Humphries told CNN.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, the lead sponsor for the bill and chairman of the Senate health committee, said that the bipartisan support for the legislation shows Congress’ willingness to work together in order to save lives.
Sen. Rob Portman was one of the first congresspeople to express concern over the opioid epidemic and had a major role in the development of the legislation. The Republican senator drafted the section of the bill that requires the U.S. Postal Service to screen packages shipped from overseas for dangerous synthetic opioids, like fentanyl and carfentanil.
“I will say getting that passed, to me, is just common sense. I think it’s overdue. I’m disappointed it took us this long,” said Portman, via The Washington Post.
Opioid Epidemic Stats
How dangerous are opioids? The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Today, overdoses from opioids like heroin and OxyContin kill more people than firearms or traffic accidents do.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 630,000 people died of a drug overdose from 1999 to 2016. In 2016, opioids were involved in about 66 percent of the more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths.
In 2017, the opioid crisis worsened. According to the CDC’s searchable online database, more than 72,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017. Fentanyl and its analogs contributed to nearly 30,000 overdose deaths. The number of opioid-related overdose deaths increased from 42,249 in 2016 to 49,068 in 2017.
Politicians and public health experts have expressed optimism for the Support for Patients and Communities Act’s potential in curbing the widespread misuse of opioids. However, former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy says that lawmakers must continuously address the opioid epidemic in the future to truly alleviate the crisis.
“I hope Congress doesn’t think they can put this behind them because they passed these bills,” Kennedy told The Washington Post. “It takes an urgency like we had during HIV-AIDS. That will call to mind what it takes to address a crisis. It takes political will.”