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November 23, 2020

$9 billion opioid bill passes house floor

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Brandon Glass

CUMBERLAND — Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) that would provide $9 billion to fund the opioid crisis response over six years passed the House floor unanimously this week.

The State Opioid Response Grant Authorization Act is aimed at giving states a level of certainty that funding will be available long term and not dependent year to year, like it is now.

“It’s six years starting with 2021. It gives the money to the states to give it out, then to counties and municipalities, nonprofits throughout the states because they’re going to get it right,” Trone said. “The federal government would never get it right. Right now, we’ve been doing this so our grants are one year at a time. A lot of programs take a couple years to mature. Those types of programs that are excellent in long-term thinking can’t get any money because there is not a guarantee they’ll have any money.”

The funding comes at a time when opioid overdoses in Western Maryland have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019, overdose deaths increased 50% in Garrett County and 54% in Allegany County. The Allegany County increase is the highest in the region.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which awards State Opioid Response and Tribal Opioid Response grants, the grants are awarded to states and territories via a formula, with 15% being set aside for the 10 states with the highest drug overdose related mortality rates.

Money from the grants is allocated to provide states and tribal organizations with resources and money required for additional treatment beds, to hire more workers to address treatment and recovery options, bridge care gaps and assist prevention campaigns.

“This bill will help provide states with steady, sustained and consistent money they need for programs to prevent addiction through evidence-based programs, increase access to outpatient and residential treatment, particularly through medication assisted treatment, prevent overdoses by expanding naloxone distribution, and support individuals in recovery with recovery housing and peer support,” said Trone.

According to the CDC, over 550,000 have died in America from opioids since 2000. It costs the country an estimated $78.5 billion per year.

“Last year, nearly 71,000 people died from an overdose, the most ever, and the COVID-19 pandemic will push these numbers even higher,” Trone said.

The bill will head to the U.S. Senate the next. Should it pass the senate, it would end up on the president’s desk.

On Wednesday, the House passed the Fighting Emerging Narcotics Through Additional Nations to Yield Lasting Results Act. The bill aims to increase global cooperation in taking on synthetic drug trafficking.

One such synthetic drug that is a specific concern for the legislation is its namesake — fentanyl, which is highly potent. For that reason, it is often cut into other drugs like heroin.

“It’s China, China, China. From China, it goes to Mexico and then over our southwest border,” said Trone. “Of course, fentanyl is what took the life of my nephew Ian at age 24. Fentanyl is the one that’s killing people right now.”

The hope is to get federal agencies in the three countries to cooperate to crack down on trafficking of the drug.