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December 12, 2023

Congress Still Has Time To Save Lives From Drug Overdose | Opinion

By David Trone, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ann McLane Kuster, and Lisa McClain, co-chairs, Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force

Credit: Newsweek

Since 1999, drug overdoses have killed more than one million Americans, leaving countless families with immeasurable grief and an empty seat at their dinner tables. It’s a crisis that’s been overlooked for decades because of the damaging stigma associated with substance use disorder, leaving the nearly 50 million Americans experiencing addiction today without the resources they need to recover from this disease and thrive.

After years of working to find solutions and deliver resources to our communities to combat the substance use disorder epidemic, Congress finally made progress in 2018. For the first time, we passed into law a comprehensive, bipartisan legislative package aimed at mitigating the harmful effects of opioids, largely driven by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family’s deceptive and aggressive marketing of OxyContin. In the five years since it was signed into law, the Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) Act has been a critical guidebook for health care workers, law enforcement personnel, and policymakers to respond to this crisis on the front lines.

This bipartisan legislation expanded access to recovery programs, invested in the mental health and substance use disorder workforce, supported training for first responders, and required expanded access to FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder. It put safeguards in place so that when the opioid crisis worsened during the pandemic, communities were equipped to combat it and save lives. On September 30 of this year, the SUPPORT Act expired, and the clock is ticking on reauthorizing it.

As co-chairs of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, we’re increasingly concerned about the impact that failing to reauthorize the law will have on the opioid epidemic as federal funding runs out.

When Congress first passed the SUPPORT Act five years ago, it required state Medicaid programs to cover medications for opioid use disorder, changing the game for substance use disorder treatment. Studies show that when people with opioid use disorder are treated with these medications, their risk of dying from an overdose dropped by 76 percent over three months. That’s just one example of this legislation’s positive impact on communities and families across our country.

There’s no question that failure to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act would prove catastrophic as our country continues to grapple with record fatalities to drug overdoses year after year. To put a finer point on it, a Stanford-Lancet report published last year projects that more than 1.2 million Americans will die from drug overdoses this decade alone—and with nearly 110,000 Americans dying from overdose in 2022, we’re on track to meet that horrifying estimate.

This week, the House of Representatives will vote to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act and continue the important progress we have made against the substance use disorder epidemic. We’re urging all of our congressional colleagues to vote in favor of it. The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved this legislation, and we are working across the aisle to ensure it will receive the same overwhelming support on the floor.

As we mentioned in another op-ed earlier this year, substance use disorder is one of the rare areas of public policy where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground. No one is immune to this disease, and the onus is on all of us to work together and put solutions into action. Let’s reauthorize these life-saving programs and give Americans the support they need to survive.

Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), and Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, which brings together over 140 Democratic and Republican lawmakers committed to combating the growing opioid, substance use disorder, and mental health crises.