The U.S. House seems poised to act on nearly a dozen bills related to substance use disorder
By William WagnerApril 22, 2021
Congress is paying attention. Now the question is, will it take action?
The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce convened last week to discuss 11 pieces of addiction treatment legislation that are on the table. The hearing, titled “An Epidemic within a Pandemic: Understanding Substance Use and Misuse in America,” covered a range of issues—from research to Medicaid expansion—but the primary emphasis was on the opioid crisis and how it has grown worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I commend the sponsors of these [House] bills for their leadership and look forward to our continued work in addressing this devastating epidemic in the months ahead.”—Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce
“First of all, there’s been incredible substance use disorder problems during COVID,” says Mark Dunn, director of public policy for the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). “People have been stuck inside, and mental health and SUD issues have increased. Secondly, I think the hearing was a reflection of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] releasing a [recent] report showing that over a 12-month period [from September 2019 through August 2020] there were over 88,000 deaths from overdoses. Congress could demonstrate [through the hearing] that it’s aware and cares, and has potential fixes.”
The House’s Addiction Treatment Legislation
The House’s sense of urgency was evident in the opening statement from Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce: “This committee has a long history of working on a bipartisan basis to combat the threat of opioids and substance use and misuse. Together, we were making significant progress, but unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn over the last year has weighed heavily on the American people and has only exacerbated substance use and misuse. Today, we are continuing our work to address the epidemic within the pandemic.”
For now, that work centers on the following 11 bills:
- Drug-Free Communities Pandemic Relief Act
- Medicaid Reentry Act of 2021
- Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act of 2021
- Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting Fentanyl Act
- Methamphetamine Response Act
- Medication Access and Training Expansion Act
- Opioid Prescription Verification Act
- Synthetic Opioid Danger Awareness Act
- Support, Treatment, & Overdose Prevention of Fentanyl Act of 2021
- State Opioid Response Grant Reauthorization Act
- Streamlining Research on Controlled Substances Act
Dunn is relatively confident that at least some of this treatment legislation will see the light of day.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see an omnibus SUD bill come out of the House,” he says. “They’ve taken that approach in the past. Timing-wise it’s good, because you get it all in one package and it doesn’t take up a multitude of hours on the House floor. And there’s an awareness among this Congress and certainly this administration of the problems [with SUD]. They’ve had to deal primarily with COVID initially, but I think the policymakers understand the additional problems that have arisen around SUD. I think there’s a good chance that some of these will be signed into law.”
Don’t Forget About CARA 3.0
The House hearing followed the introduction in the Senate last month of the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 3.0, which is designed to address drug prevention, treatment access and funding for related training and support services. All of this treatment legislation means that Congress is getting more serious about taking on SUD.
As Pallone said in his opening statement, “We must continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to combat this epidemic, as millions of lives depend on it. I commend the sponsors of these [House] bills for their leadership and look forward to our continued work in addressing this devastating epidemic in the months ahead.”
Top photo: Aaron Burden