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March 28, 2023

Addiction doesn’t care about your politics. Neither should our policies

Credit: The Hill

In 2021, more than 106,000 Americans died from an overdose. And in 2022, those numbers only escalated due to the increase in powerful synthetic drugs, including fentanyl. Today, fentanyl is a leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-to-45. That’s unacceptable — and it’s time Congress builds on its progress and acts with urgency to meet the demands of this crisis.

The Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, co-chaired by two Democrats and two Republicans, is focused on bringing members of Congress together from across the aisle to move forward with commonsense legislation to address this epidemic and help save lives.

There is no single solution to the overdose crisis. Addiction is complex, nuanced, and often co-occurring with mental health, including anxiety, depression and trauma. We must rely upon expertise from health care professionals and garner support from members on both sides of the aisle to make progress.

That is exactly the approach our nearly 140-Member strong Task Force has taken. In the 117th Congress, we successfully passed 17 bills from our Legislative Agenda, all of which were led or co-led by both a Republican and a Democrat. These pieces of legislation delivered much-needed resources to the hardest-hit communities, expanded access to life-saving treatment and recovery programs, and supported law enforcement officers in holding illicit drug distributors accountable.

Included in these wins was the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act. This bipartisan bill was passed as part of the FY 2023 funding package and removed what’s known as the X-Waiver requirement, an antiquated and unnecessary barrier for doctors to treat their patients for substance use disorder. We are seeing the positive impact of this change on communities in our districts and all across the country.

While this progress was important, more must be done to help save lives. As we begin the 118th Congress, we stand more determined than ever to continue this important work.

First, we must address the flow of these dangerous drugs into our country. We should deploy increased technology and enhance training at our points of entry to ensure we are catching criminals bringing synthetic drugs like fentanyl across the border.

Next, we must hold illicit drug distributors accountable. This means equipping law enforcement officers with the tools, training, and support they need to do their jobs, disrupt the distribution networks, and enforce our existing drug laws.

Most importantly, we must address the underlying demand for these dangerous drugs. The mental health crisis our country faces is largely due to barriers to entry for resources. We need to expand access to treatment and ensure all communities have the resources to be healthy and thrive.
There is a clear, bipartisan path forward to accomplish these goals in the 118th Congress – and we are determined to see them all the way through. Members of our Task Force hold positions on prominent committees with jurisdiction over these issues. As we saw from our accomplishments in the 117th Congress, bipartisan cooperation at all levels of government makes a real difference in moving the ball forward and successfully combating this epidemic.

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As the new Congress gets underway, we are holding conversations with mental health and substance use leaders and legislators to grow the treatment provider workforce, guarantee access to treatment through telehealth to increase access to care, and continue to reduce the shame and stigma associated with addiction and mental health challenges.

Substance use disorder does not care whether you voted for a Republican or a Democrat — and neither should our approach to addressing this crisis. We will keep working together, across the aisle, to make progress for the American people. Join us.

Annie Kuster represents the 2nd District of New Hampshire, Brian Fitzpatrick represents the 1st District of Pennsylvania, David Trone represents the 6th District of Maryland, and Lisa McClain represents the 9th District of Michigan. They are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force.