New Democrats Tackle America’s Opioid Crisis
Across America, communities are facing an opioid crisis that has become the worst drug epidemic in our history. Millions of people are struggling with opioid misuse or addictions, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die each day from overdoses. New Democrats know that America needs good policy solutions now, because every day Congress waits, more lives are lost.
Last year alone, over 63,000 deaths were caused by opioid overdose. This epidemic is impacting rural, suburban, and urban areas, and it cuts across socioeconomic lines as well as age. It is taking a toll on individuals’ own lives, while it is also affecting families, the economy, the labor force, and the country’s future. Eight months ago, the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but many people were discouraged by both the lack of additional funding and the absence of a real plan for curbing the epidemic. In Congress, New Democrats have been tackling this crisis head on, introducing important, often bipartisan legislation. From hosting roundtables and district events, to drafting bills and amendments, they are offering tangible policy solutions to this complex epidemic. In this post you’ll find a selection of actions New Dem Members have already taken this Congress.
Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02), founder and Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force, set out an ambitious agenda earlier this year to take real action against the crisis. She said, “I’ve focused on bringing together Republicans and Democrats to recognize the importance of a comprehensive response to this crisis that expands prevention, treatment, and long-term recovery as well as law enforcement and interdiction.” Fellow Co-Chair Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ-01) emphasized the importance of the Task Force’s work, saying, “We must invest time, effort and money to save lives. Every delay means we’ll lose another child, grandchild, friend or neighbor to the disease of addiction.”
The message is clear: we must act now. Fighting the opioid crisis requires comprehensive action from all stakeholders, and new legislation must be passed to save lives. New Dem Members layout several policy solutions to some of the greatest challenges in this crisis:
1. We must secure more funding.
- Fighting the opioid crisis is expensive. Rep. Elizabeth Etsy (CT-05) and Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduced the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Through Forensic Drug Testing Act, which would allow more funding to be used for police forensic labs and medical examiner offices to pay for staff, equipment, and overtime.
- The bipartisan STOP (Surveillance and Testing of Opioids to Prevent) Fentanyl Deaths Act, introduced by Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ-01), provides grant funding to assist states and municipalities in identifying fentanyl in both fatal and nonfatal drug overdoses. It also creates a pilot program allowing states to develop unique ‘point of use’ drug testing programs.
- Tackling the opioid epidemic should be one of our nation’s top priorities. With the Respond NOW Act, Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) wants to establish a $25 billion Opioid Epidemic Response Fund, which would provide critical resources to agencies working on the front lines.
2. We must invest in treatment and prevention programs.
- Treatment for opioid addiction should be accessible for all, including seniors receiving Medicare. Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA-36) introduced the Advancing High Quality Treatment for Opioid Use Disorders in Medicare Act to expand access to treatment services and reward treatment programs with the best outcomes.
- Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) introduced two bills that will help treatment and prevention programs. The Reinforcing Evidence-Based Standards Under Law in Treating Substance Abuse (RESULTS) Act directs the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory to issue new guidance to applicants seeking federal funding for implementing evidence-based solutions to the opioid crisis within their communities. The Poison Center Network Enhancement Act will reauthorize the U.S. poison center program for an additional five years, as they handle nearly 200 opioid cases daily.
- The Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), would establish a grant program within the Department of Justice, giving law enforcement the option of referring individuals to treatment centers instead of detention centers. This flexibility would help curb the opioid epidemic, decrease low-level drug crime, and reduce the number of low-level drug related arrests.
- Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) reintroduced the bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Accessibility Act, which would enable local entities to build psychiatric and substance abuse facilities. These facilities would provide short-term inpatient care, helping people who suffer from psychiatric and substance disorders get more immediate help.
- Opioid use among student athletes is rising, which should concern all of us. The Student and Student Athlete Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), will provide more support for schools, communities, and youth athletic associations to implement evidence-based prevention programs.
3. We must address the families who are affected..
- Women who are pregnant or who have just given birth are especially vulnerable to opioid dependency, which requires proper treatment and support. Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11) introduced a bipartisan bill to provide access to inpatient treatment services for these women.
- As Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07) said, “Our children are our most precious asset, and we must do everything possible to ensure that drug-dependent babies receive proper care at the hospital and the necessary family, community, and medical support once they are discharged.” She introduced the Assisting States’ Implementation of the Plans of Safe Care Act to develop evidence-based policies and procedures to properly care for babies born dependent on drugs.
- Quality early child care is essential to children’s overall development and wellbeing. With best practices in place and enough funding available, this can help prevent prenatal opioid addiction. “We now face new challenges in early child care in America as the number of babies born to opioid-addicted parents has increased at an alarming rate,” said Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09) in this Orlando Weekly op-ed.
4. We must lower the supply of opioids available.
- Opioids should not be the only or the most easily accessible treatment option people have. In the recently passed Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act, a provision written by Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) incentivizes the use of innovative, non-opioid painkillers. It also makes these medical alternatives available to Medicare patients.
- Currently, people can find opioids readily available online, but there is no comprehensive reporting on these online drug sales. The Stop Online Opioid Sales Act, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), would require the DEA to compile a comprehensive report on the sale of drugs online within a year and continue issuing annual reports.
- Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11) introduced the Opioid Immediate Suspension Order Act, which would restore the Department of Justice’s ability to suspend the pharmaceutical distributor licenses of distributors creating imminent danger to public health. As Rep. Connolly said, “We need to hold everyone along the supply chain accountable, from the pharmaceutical distributors, to the pharmacies, to the prescribers.”
- If you can find old or expired drugs in your medicine cabinet, chances are a child, friend, or family member could stumble upon them just as easily. That’s why Rep. Ami Bera (CA-07) introduced the Dispose Responsibly Of Pills (DROP) Act, which helps local law enforcement, clinics, pharmacies, and other authorized collectors provide permanent drop off sites to safely get rid of your medication.
5. We must empower the community leaders who can fight against the opioid crisis.
- Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-10) introduced the Opioid Preventing Abuse through Continuing Education (PACE) Act, which would require healthcare providers to complete continuing education in order to better detect and treat opioid abuse. This would also reduce the overprescribing of opioids.
- The bipartisan Special Registration for Telemedicine Clarification Act, introduced by Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17), passed the House and will increase access to treatment for those suffering from addiction, especially in small towns and rural areas. She said, “We don’t have enough doctors, we don’t have enough treatment centers, and if we don’t have those things, too many people don’t have a chance.”
- Fighting the opioid crisis will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. Although seemingly unexpected, librarians are often on the front lines of dealing with this epidemic. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) introduced the Lifesaving Librarian Act, which would establish a grants program for libraries in high-intensity drug-trafficking areas to access naloxone kits and employee training.