- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2018

Lawmakers from states with high rates of opioid abuse cheered a budget deal Friday that includes $6 billion to combat addiction, yet said the money is just the “next step” in a massive fight, must be spent wisely and should be funneled toward places that need it the most.

The opioid money will be split between the current fiscal year and fiscal 2019. It is part of a broader, two-year deal that lifts strict spending caps on defense and non-defense spending.

President Trump signed the measure early Friday, clearing the way for lawmakers to figure out how to dole out the dollars.

The money is supposed boost addiction-prevention programs and law enforcement on the front lines of the fight, while funding state grants, particularly in places with high opioid-related mortality rates.

Senators from hard-hit states in New England and Appalachia said they will keep close tabs on the process, as appropriators work on an “omnibus” bill to actually provide the cash.

“It will be critical that these new federal dollars are prioritized for states like New Hampshire that have been hardest hit by this crisis, and I will continue working with Sen. [Jeanne] Shaheen to ensure that happens,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat.

New Hampshire has one of worst overdose-death rates in the nation, on par with those of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

West Virginia is faring worst of all, at 52 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, said her state’s status as “ground zero” for opioid abuse cries out for additional help.

“It is critical that we have the resources necessary to fight this epidemic from all angles,” Ms. Capito said. “This bill will help provide that support. We are also making progress toward ensuring the omnibus includes resources targeted to hard-hit states like West Virginia that are dealing with the worst of the drug epidemic.”

Opioid abuse is a nationwide problem that’s killing tens of thousands of Americans per year.

Mr. Trump declared it a public health emergency in October, though he left it to Congress to free up new resources for the fight, prompting critics to say he was all talk and little action.

Advocates who’d pressed the administration said the $6 billion is a much-needed investment but not a panacea, given the scope of the problem.

“Any sign of Congress reaching a bipartisan deal to provide more funding for the opioid epidemic is a step forward,” said Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a group that combats the stigma around addiction and recovery. “While $6 billion barely scratches the surface of the full amount needed to adequately address the crisis, it will help save lives.”

Mr. Mendell said the government should also be pushing measures that don’t require new grant funding, such as incentivizing providers to offer medication-assisted treatment.

Likewise, House leaders cast the investments in incremental terms, saying it would build on funding in the 21st Century Cures Act and reforms in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act — major anti-opioid legislation passed in 2016 — ahead of a flurry of expected hearings on the topic to craft new reforms.

“As our committee begins another legislative push to craft policies to combat the crisis, we plan to move important reforms and provide even more resources in this fight,” said Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and a leading voice in the fight against opioid addiction, said Congress should use the policy framework established by his CARA bill, so the money is spent wisely on therapeutic alternatives, overdose-reversing drugs and stress-tested programs.

“This is all about sending funds out to programs that have been studied, that do have good results,” Mr. Portman said. “It’s not just a matter of throwing money after this problem. We have got to be sure it’s done effectively and it leverages more money at the local level.”

In the meantime, the senator is pursuing a major change in postal policy to thwart the flow of fentanyl from clandestine labs to China to packages destined for U.S. mailboxes. He is pushing the STOP Act, which would require foreign posts to include advanced electronic data on all packages they send to American shores through the U.S. Postal Service.

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