The Opioid Epidemic & H.R.6 – SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

The Opioid Epidemic & H.R.6 – SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act

News of the growing opioid epidemic regularly makes its way into homes across the U.S.; it’s in our newspapers, social media posts, and television and radio programming.

However, for approximately 2 million people, the opioid epidemic is far more than a news story.  Every day, over 115 people in the U.S. die of an opioid overdose.  Sadly, while the public narrative around the epidemic may be wrongly rooted in notions of poor choices and careless abusers, that’s far from reality.

The truth is that opioid addiction knows no demographic boundaries, and for many, the first stop on the downward spiral of addiction starts with prescription opioids.

How big is the problem?  If statistics aren’t enough to convince the nation that it’s of dire consequence that we quickly remedy the situation, perhaps the fact that in September 2018, both the House and the Senate passed H.R.6, The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT)for Patients & Communities Act with the nearly full support of both Republicans and Democrats.

Passing this bill with such an overwhelming bipartisan vote, particularly during this time of political polarization, speaks volumes to the urgency and widespread reality of opioid use and abuse in the United States.

Many hope that this and futures bills will work to provide much-needed assistance to Americans – family, friends, and society as a whole — who grapple each day with the direct and indirect effects of opioid addiction.

But is the government doing enough to protect Americans from the significant, long-term physical and mental trauma that is indelibly linked to opioid abuse?

To answer that, we first must understand that opioid addiction is first and foremost a mental health crisis, and then we must factor in that notion into any feedback we have on the efforts put forth by the government and through the SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act.

Eight Takeaways from H.R.6 – The SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act

  • Includes a comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers grant program that allows for the establishment and operation of “comprehensive opioid recover centers that serve as a resource for the community” as well as numerous other community-based efforts to control the use and abuse of drugs like heroin and fentanyl. (Section 7121, 7181)

  • Lifts some of the restriction on medications primarily used for opioid addiction by allowing more types of health care providers to prescribe the life savings drugs “allowing for more flexibility with respect to medication-assistance treatment for opioid use disorders”. (Section 3201)

  • Expands existing grant program that supports opioid overdose: first response training as additional training safety to allow first responders, like firefighters and police, to carry naloxone, making it easier for those overdosing to receive immediate medical attention. (Section 2002)

  • Allows for an effort to increase in “cutting edge” research projects related to not only to opioids but specifically to “find new, non-addictive drugs for pain management. “Expands the ability of federal agencies to pursue research projects designed to address issues regarding pain and addiction. (Section 7041)

  • Makes changes to Medicaid and Medicare that expands access to addiction treatment

  • New educational and awareness initiatives to spread the word about proper pain treatment from health care providers. (Section 2005)

  • Increases cooperation between FDA and U.S. Customers and Borders Protection (CBP) to limit the number of illicit drugs, like fentanyl, that crosses the borders by allowing for improves tools and resources for detection and testing. (Section 3014, 3022)

  • Increases penalties meant to control over-prescription of opioids by drug manufacturers and distributors. (Section 3271).

In addition to the points above, the bill takes a deep dive into the financial, medicinal, and legal factors that contribute to the opioid epidemic.  There is no doubt that the United States needs to continue to consider bills likes this if we want to make significant strides against this raging epidemic, but what many fail to realize, and perhaps where the SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act falls short, is that the opioid epidemic is, as mentioned above, far more than a drug problem or a crime problem; instead, the opioid epidemic is a mental health crisis.

To really make an impact on the opioid epidemic, the government and medical community must first acknowledge and act upon the root of the problem. In doing so, additional grant monies can be provided, which is necessary if we want to bridge the significant difference between the 8 to 10 billion currently being used to fund opioid addiction and the tens of billions experts feel are required.

H.R.6 continues to lay a solid foundation for future efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, but it is by no means an ending point.  If we, as a nation, want to save the men, women, and children tragically impacted by opioid abuse, then we must continue to create programs, grants, and strategies that take into account the mental health crisis that is driving it.