Lawmakers, Biden official call for bipartisan action on opioid addiction

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Tuesday that bipartisan support is needed to provide more federal resources to fight the opioid epidemic.

Speaking at The Hill’s Advancing Health Equity in our Nation's Opioid Response event, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) called for a coordinated response centered on opioid treatment, prevention and education.

“This cuts across all backgrounds, all political persuasions, in that we’re in this together,” she told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

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About 69,000 people died from opioid overdoses nationwide in 2020, the bulk majority of last year’s total drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdose deaths last year jumped almost 30 percent from 2019.

“I think when we’re intentional about who we need to make sure gets access to this information, then we are on a better road to success,” Blunt Rochester said.

Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerHouse lawmakers press Pentagon over Afghanistan withdrawal Milley says he wouldn't 'tip off the enemy' to 'surprise' plans Lawmakers, Biden official call for bipartisan action on opioid addiction MORE (R-Ohio) said at Tuesday’s event sponsored by Indivior that incarcerated individuals facing addiction are forced to enter withdrawal “on their own” because of a lack of treatment funding in prisons.

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“If we can start treatment while someone is incarcerated and then continue that treatment when they’re released, our success rate will be huge, as we have continuity as they go back to the environment from which the addiction was expressed,” Turner said.

An estimated 65 percent of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Turner, a member of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, is a co-sponsor of the Medicaid Reentry Act, which permits Medicaid payments for incarcerated individuals during the 30 days preceding their release. The measure has bipartisan support among its 42 co-sponsors.

Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Tuesday that barriers to treatment coverage, prevention services and early intervention services continue to prolong the epidemic.

“One of the biggest barriers that exists is that we don’t treat this like we treat any other form of illness,” LaBelle said. “If you say you want help, you may be on a waiting list. Your insurance may or may not cover the type of treatment that you need.”

She said her office is “looking at” the administration’s ability to further reduce treatment barriers, including a potential permanent authorization for providers to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth after the public health emergency expires.

“Those are with us all the time, and so what we’re laser-focused on is taking down the ones that we can do administratively and working with Congress to work on those biggest tasks,” LaBelle said.