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Congress Comes Together to Pass Opioid Legislation

This month, members of Congress passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act

This month, members of Congress passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act

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Bipartisanship is in short supply these days in Washington, D.C. That’s why it’s heartening to see Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill come together to fight a problem as consequential as the opioid addiction epidemic currently ravaging communities across the United States.

In early October, members of Congress managed to reach across the aisle to pass the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act with overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate. The bill takes aim at the opioid crisis and seeks to help those affected by substance use disorder.

“To the millions of people in communities across this country who have been crippled by this crisis, this legislation is the turning point,” Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) told the New York Times. “It’s a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.”

The bill, which has the full name Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, takes a broad approach to tackling the widespread opioid crisis. There are hundreds of provisions in the legislation ranging from new law enforcement initiatives to increased funding for addiction and pain research to major changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

How Will This Affect Me?

Though many of the bill’s measures will take place behind the scenes, here are six key policy changes from the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that might benefit you or your community directly:

  1. Allows Medicare to cover treatment programs that use methadone, one of only three opioid addiction medications approved for Medicare.
  2. Incentivizes Medicare physicians to use post-surgical injections as a pain treatment alternative to opioids.
  3. Requires initial examinations for new Medicare enrollees to include an opioid use disorder screening.
  4. Requires states to restore Medicaid coverage for juveniles that have been through the criminal justice system once they’ve been released. Currently, Medicaid covers addiction treatment programs but does not cover anyone who has been arrested.
  5. Offers funding for aftercare and other post-treatment services. The bill will allow certain states to receive up to $30 million to pay for job training, and earmarks $25 million for housing grants to help recovering addicts who are at-risk of homelessness.
  6. Permits a wider range of medical professionals, including certified nurse specialists and certified midwives, to provide buprenorphine and other medications that treat opioid dependency.

Why Now?

The legislation comes not a moment too soon: According to recent CDC data, over 72,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2017, a 12 percent increase over 2016 and more than any other year on record. At least two-thirds of these deaths were linked to prescription or illegal opioids, the data indicate.

The bill is now en route to President Trump’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law.

For a full overview of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, you can read a comprehensive summary here.

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