Trump Signs New Bill in a Fight Against America's Painstaking Opioid Epidemic

america opioid epidemic

On October 24, 2018, President Donald Trump signed what he said to be the "single, largest bill to combat drug crisis in the history of our country." The passing of this legislation came almost exactly one year after the president declared America’s opioid crisis a national public health emergency.

The opioid crisis is a pervasive pandemic across the United States, with more than 115 Americans dying each day from an opioid overdose, according to government statistics. In fact, the nation recently exceeded record highs with the number of opioid overdoses happening across the states.

The new opioid bill, called “Support for Patients and Communities Act,” is a bipartisan response to the ongoing drug problem that has taken the lives of thousands, and touched the lives of millions more.

President Trump explained that this expansive opioid bill will end the “scourge of drug addiction” in America or, at the least, “make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.” It includes more than 70 law changes tackling a wide range of opioid-related issues, including lifting legal restrictions that have made it harder for addicted individuals to get treatment in the past.

What the New Opioid Bill Includes

The massive new opioid bill passed in October is aimed at mitigating the over-prescription of painkillers, identifying safer methods of pain relief, enhancing law enforcement against international drug trafficking, and expanding access to treatment for substance use disorders. As detailed by Vox, some of the major, specific goals and policy changes of the bill include:

  • Reauthorizing funding from the Cures Act, therefore putting $500 million a year toward the opioid crisis (the new policy also gives states some more flexibility in using the funding)
  • Creating a grant program for comprehensive opioid recovery treatment centers
  • Lifting restrictions on medications for opioid addiction, allowing more types of healthcare professionals (e.g. clinical nurse specialists and nurse anesthetists) to prescribe medication-assisted treatment for patients battling a substance use disorder
  • Expanding an existing program that encourages and trains more first responders, such as police and firefighters, to carry and use naloxone (i.e. Narcan) to reverse opioid overdoses
  • Advancing cutting edge research and enabling federal agencies to pursue more research projects related to addiction and pain relief (e.g. early warning signs of a substance use disorder, finding new, non-addictive drugs for pain management)
  • Making changes to Medicare and Medicaid, in attempt to limit the over-prescription of opioid painkillers within the programs and expand access to addiction treatment (this includes lifting some of the current restrictions that curtail Medicare and Medicaid from paying for treatment)
  • Advancing new initiatives to educate and raise awareness about proper pain treatment among healthcare providers
  • Improving coordination between different federal agencies to prevent illicit drugs (such as dangerous fentanyl) from passing the border and getting into the country, while simultaneously giving agencies more tools to improve detection and testing at customs/border checks
  • Increasing penalties for drug manufacturers and distributors related to the overprescribing of opioids

To read the full legislation, you can click here.

Will it Be Enough to Combat America’s Opioid Epidemic?

U.S. Senator Rob Portman says yes, the new opioid bill will strengthen the government’s response to this devastating crisis. “Importantly,” he explains, “this bill will increase access to long-term treatment and recovery while also helping stop the flow of deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped into the United States through our own Postal Service.” Portman told NPR ahead of the bill signing, "It will help in terms of both reducing some of this poison coming into our communities, but also with regard to getting people into treatment.”

Other medical and treatment experts say the bill is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. Many believe that the government continues to under-fund addiction treatment in the United States, and it is funding that is needed to dramatically expand the availability of treatment services for those in need. While the new opioid bill has enacted positive changes, it is still the expansion of addiction treatment that will truly combat the opioid crisis in the end.

As Dr. Leana Wen, the soon-to-be president of Planned Parenthood said, the new legislation “is simply tinkering around the edges” and that a far more comprehensive, ambitious response is needed to put an end to the opioid crisis. Sarah Wakeman, an addiction medicine doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative, agrees. In a Vox interview, Wakeman said:

“We hear a lot of talk about how addiction is a medical condition that needs to be addressed similarly to other chronic illnesses, yet the existing treatment system is largely separate from the medical mainstream and offers interventions that bear little resemblance to how we care for people with other health conditions… To actually stem the tide of overdose deaths, we need funding and innovation that is on par with our response to HIV/AIDS.” And that, she continued, will require “a massive infusion of funding and a fundamental restructuring of how we treat addiction in this country.”

With more than 72,000 people dying from drug overdoses each year – and even more people becoming addiction to dangerous opioid drugs – the crisis is clear. And the fact that Congress is taking action is very reflective of how bad this growing epidemic has gotten. It is time to make a change and reduce the barriers to treatment. Federal data shows that only one in 10 people with a substance use disorder receive the treatment they need. 

Turnbridge is a recognized treatment center in Connecticut, for young men and women battling an opioid addiction. Learn about our treatment services by calling 877-581-1793 today.