129 Families Share Their Loss on Capitol Hill to Combat Addiction
Last month, 129 families made their way to the U.S. capital to call on Congress to address the opioid crisis. The number 129 was chosen because every day, 129 people die from substance abuse and addiction. These 129 families gathered to tell Congress stories of the loved ones they lost, or nearly lost, to opioid addiction. They requested that Congress finish their work on opioid legislation. Fortunately, their efforts have resulted in some progress.
Last week, the House passed 18 bills to address the opioid epidemic. These bills will help re-frame how the country handles addiction. The legislation finally addresses addiction as a disease and proposes a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, overdose reversal, recovery supports, law enforcement strategies and criminal justice reform.
Of the 22.7 million people who need treatment, less than ten percent will receive it. Admissions for opioid treatment have jumped 500 percent. These bills will help re-frame the way we treat addiction and hopefully increase the access to treatment that many desperately need. The bills intend to limit access to opioids and expand access to drugs like Naloxone that can reverse an overdose. Some of the bills target newborns, while others target veterans.
Still, the house has only allotted $103 million for the programs. President Obama has stated he wants to spend ten times more than the 103 million the house has authorized to fight the opioid epidemic. Therefore, this number is considered a very slow start. Because of this, advocates are cautiously pleased. Many are skeptical of whether these bills will work how they are intended to work. Advocates believe treatment should focus more on communities working together to address addiction:
“Addiction is a health issue and not a crime,” said Patty McCarthy Metcalf, executive director of the nonprofit Faces and Voices of Recovery and herself a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. “If CARA is really going to make an impact, we need to look at the longer-term chronic care model, the supports in the community, connections with treatment, and the resources for communities to work together to solve this problem.”
Many rehab facilities have long waiting lists. Addicts who are finally ready to confront their illness are waiting months for a chance to work toward recovery. Sadly, for some time is of the essence. Treatment may come too late. An amendment on Thursday added treatment and recovery into the House bill, but the bill still doesn’t require certain amounts to be spent on certain areas. It’s still possible for a state to decide to spend all its money on law enforcement, even though technically they’re allowed to spend it on treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
Push for More Funding
Others are disappointed in the House opioid package, too. President Obama wants to spend 10 times more than the $103 million the House has authorized to fight the opioid epidemic. Making matters worse, the House didn’t say where the money would come from.
Jessica Nickel, of the Addiction Policy Forum, says the number is just a place holder and it is now up to the appropriations committees to fully fund it. She says the 178 national organizations will now turn their efforts to the funding strategy.
Others argue that if congress were serious about these bills, they would have found funding by now, and it would have been a lot.
“If this is their version of their big moment to address the overdose epidemic, then they’ve only done half their job,” said Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “They passed some solid bills that will make a difference for things like medication-assisted treatment and naloxone-reversed overdoses, but if states and communities don’t get a substantial investment… we will continue to see the number of deaths going up.”
Raymond continued by stating that the House could have authorized higher levels of funding or required unspent funds to be used for these programs. As of now, the money aspect of the bills has yet to be fully addressed.
While the bills recently passed will make a huge difference in the addiction crisis, the next step for legislators is to push for funding. Until then, communities need to gather and spread awareness of how serious the addiction epidemic is. If you are struggling, you are one of many. Seek professional help today. Do not wait. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.