A recent alert from a small New England town’s police department read, “Despite recent wintery weather, spring is here. And with the melting snow, some residents and business owners are finding used syringes and needles on their property.” The notice then provided detailed instructions to dispose of dirty needles discarded by opioid addicts.
Opioid addiction has become a national crisis in the last ten years, contributing to 66 percent of the roughly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The crisis has hit some parts of the country harder than others – the entire Northeast is experiencing staggering numbers of overdoses – and Wisconsin and Delaware saw overdose rates skyrocket by 109 and 105 percent respectively between the summers of 2016 and 2017.
Lawmakers in Washington, DC, many of whom represent regions severely impacted by the crisis, have come together to find comprehensive solutions. This year, Congress has held countless hearings to examine the crisis from multiple angles: people addicted to opioids, their families, children and communities as well as drug prescribing practices, drug dealers and law enforcement issues.
On March 23, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to fund the Federal Government for Fiscal Year 2018. Opioid- specific funding initiatives received $3.3 billion through the appropriations law, targeted at prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
Most recently, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced S. 2680, the Opioid Crisis Relief Act. The bill is designed to help multiple federal departments and agencies address the drug crisis, including the ripple effects on children, families, and communities. Other Senate Committees, including the Finance Committee, are working on their own initiatives.
In the House of Representatives, Committees such as Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Education and the Workforce are each preparing opioid response legislation. The House plans to dedicate a week to floor consideration of a large package of bills later this spring. While it’s clear this public health crisis shows no signs of slowing down, Congress is urgently striving to find supportive policy and funding solutions.