A job not yet done: Congress, you can still fight opioid addiction

In January, the Trump administration and the new Congress will take office. In the meantime,more than 2,500 people will die from an opioid overdose. Half of these preventable deaths will be caused by prescription opioids such as morphine or oxycodone. Before this Congress heads home for the holidays, there are two important actions it can take to urgently address this crisis.

First, Congress should vote to fund the provisions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). CARA includes state grants to increase addiction treatment, funds that are urgently needed until the insurance industry catches up with science and the law by eliminating pre-authorization requirements and other barriers to care, as Cigna recently did.


Second, the Senate should pass the 21st Century Cures Act (CURES), approved by the House last week. The CURES Act would provide resources to discover the next generation of cures and treatment options, strengthen mental health services and provide much needed funding to battle America’s deadly opioid epidemic. The act, if fully funded, would channel $1 billion in new funding over the next two years into opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs.

The science shows that medication assisted treatment, in combination with behavioral therapy, leads to better treatment outcomes and increases a patient’s chances of making a full recovery.

With all the evidence, why is it that only 1 in 5 people struggling with the disease of addiction receive any kind of specialized treatment?

The pace of change is abysmal, and the disparities in how doctors treat traditional physical diseases and diseases of the brain have been allowed to continue despite the requirements for equal treatment contained in the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

The way forward is less about bridging an ideological divide than it is about discarding old, inaccurate prejudices about addiction and mental health that are not based in science. To help challenge these misperceptions and bring attention to solutions, we have joined together as advisors for Advocates for Opioid Recovery.

The evidence about how addiction affects the brain proves that we must create a health care environment that increases the likelihood of success for those seeking treatment. That means removing the stigma around the disease of addiction and making treatment more available for everyone. The CARA bill is a strong step in that direction.

Our support for additional funding may surprise some of our colleagues, but this public health emergency requires immediate action. The Surgeon General’s addiction report issued last month cited a study that found every one dollar invested in brief primary care intervention saves more than $27. A dollar spent intervening at a hospital saves over $36, or $9 in an emergency department. Every dollar spent on substance use disorder treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs by preventing the cycle of recidivism that often accompanies addiction. All of the 30 medical interventions analyzed by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy mentioned in the report—short interventions, recovery medication, behavioral counseling—had a positive return on investment by preventing future health-care costs.

By funding CARA and passing the CURES Act, Congress can take swift action to turn the tide on America’s opioid crisis and save thousands of lives. The time is now.

Mr. Gingrich is a former speaker of the House, Van Jones is a former Obama administration advisor and Mr. Kennedy is former congressman from Rhode Island. They are advisors to the nonprofit Advocates for Opioid Recovery.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.