WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) today published an op-ed in The News Journal on the importance of prioritizing opioid abuse prevention in Congress.
The News Journal: Opioid abuse prevention must remain a priority
By Chris Coons
Communities all across our country have been impacted by a devastating crisis of heroin and opioid drug abuse that often lead to overdoses and death.
Unfortunately, Southern Delaware has not been spared by this terrible epidemic.
Nationally, the number of fatal overdoses from prescription drugs quadrupled from 1999 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here in Delaware, 308 of our neighbors, friends, and family members died from opioid or prescription drug abuse last year. To put it into context: last year’s deaths from overdoses is almost triple the number of Delawareans who were killed in traffic accidents.
One of the most tragic things about the opioid epidemic is that it is both preventable and treatable with the right programs and resources.
Ensuring that prevention programs and resources are available and properly funded should be a top priority for the federal government, and as your senator, I can tell you that it is a top priority of mine. I continue to hear too many stories from Delawareans about how the opioid epidemic has affected their loved ones, and while the federal government has contributed a good deal of resources to address the rise of opioid abuses, we have far more work to do.
There is some good news. Throughout Fiscal Year 2017, Congress will devote more than $1.3 billion to specific efforts to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic. This includes more than $160 million for the Department of Justice, $801 million for the Department of Health and Human Services, and $367 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Altogether, that’s more than double the federal investment in fighting the opioid epidemic from Fiscal Year 2016.
Last year, Congress also took two important steps to address this crisis.
First, we passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which supports evidence-based drug treatment and prevention programs and helps combat the over-prescription of opioids and other prescription medications.
And in December, Congress passed the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, which included $1 billion over two years for grants to help states combat the opioid epidemic. The grants, which are administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, can be used toward opioid prevention and treatment programs. In April, the first round of funding went out to every state and Delaware received a $2 million grant through this program.
These are just a few examples of the initiatives and funding that I have continued to fight for to combat this crisis, but as long as the crisis continues to impact our communities, we have to keep up our efforts.
As Republicans and Democrats debate how to improve our health care system, we have to ensure that important programs to prevent opioid abuse don’t end up on the cutting room floor.
That starts with ensuring that Americans don’t lose access to comprehensive health care benefits, including substance use disorder treatment. Before 2010, people with substance use disorders and mental illnesses were among the most likely to be uninsured, and many insurance plans had no coverage for substance use disorders and mental health services. The Affordable Care Act changed that, and the results have made a significant difference.
Additionally, thanks to Delaware’s decision to expand Medicaid, many Delawareans have been able to access substance use disorder treatment for the first time. In fact, Medicaid is the single largest payer of substance use disorder services in the nation and pays for a third of all medication-assisted treatment in the United States.
Finally, we need to ensure that any changes we make to our healthcare system don’t take coverage away from Americans with pre-existing conditions (one of which is substance use disorder).
Protecting our children from drugs and helping our neighbors, friends and loved ones who struggle with opioid or prescription drug abuse isn’t a partisan issue, it’s just the right thing to do, and it keeps our communities safer and healthier.
As we continue working in Congress to fix the problems with our health care system, know that I won’t forget the Delawareans who have been touched by this crisis.
I will fight against bills that take away health care access for Delawareans and against any harmful cuts to programs and funding. I will not stand by while this epidemic continues to cost far too many lives in our nation and in our state.
Chris Coons has represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate since 2010.