Statistics surrounding overdose and drug abuse in America have reached alarming numbers. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared new data on provisional overdose counts in America, revealing that over 100,000 people have died of overdoses in the 12 months ending in April 2020. Each year, the numbers have spiked while health professionals and doctors have grown further concerned about the opioid crisis. Researchers expressed a dire need for some reform that needs to take place, along with action against the uptick of fentanyl in the streets.
A group of organizations has now united to form a coalition to pressure Congress to help save lives. The Drug Policy Alliance, People’s Action, National Harm Reduction Coalition, and VOCAL-NY joined forces to lead nearly 250 organizations to push lawmakers towards passing new legislation that could play a significant role in helping end the overdose epidemic in the country. If passed, the bill can fuel funding into critical harm reduction, along with the MAT Act, Medicaid Reentry, and the STOP Fentanyl Act.
“With over 100,000 people dying of overdose in the U.S. during the first year of the pandemic, passing these critical pieces of legislation is not only more urgent than ever before—it’s literally a matter of life and death for so many people,” Maritza Perez, Drug Policy Alliance’s Director of the Office of National Affairs, said. She added that the U.S. Government’s role in fueling the drug epidemic through the War on Drugs only exasperated the situation even further, urging Congress to “stop playing politics and continuing down this ill-fated path.”
The coalition’s letter to Congress aims to enact legislation before the end of 2022 to focus on several key points. The first piece of the bill focuses on funding for 2022. The requested $69.5M would create better access to harm reduction and overdose prevention, including syringe service programs provided through the CDC’s Infectious Diseases and the Opioid Epidemic program.
Secondly, the Mainstream Addiction Treatment Act would be passed, also known as the MAT Act. This bill is crucial in helping prevent future overdose deaths. The MAT Act would remove the need for health care practitioners to apply for a separate waiver, called a DATA 2000 waiver or an X-waiver, via the Drug Enforcement Agency to provide medication, like buprenorphine, to treat substance abuse disorders. According to End Substance Use Disorder, the federal barriers that hold medical professionals from prescribing medications like buprenorphine include limitations on prescriptions and other bureaucratic requirements, despite the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluding these “policies are not supported by evidence.”
Practically every state across America has witnessed an uptick of overdose deaths throughout the pandemic, though other factors play a role, such as the circulation of fentanyl. The coalition’s letter demands Congress to pass The Support, Treatment, and Overdose Prevention (STOP) of Fentanyl Act – a bill that would put more resources towards detecting and monitoring fentanyl across the country. The STOP Fentanyl Act also prioritizes evidence-based public health to help with substance use disorder.
The fourth and final component of the coalition’s demand to Congress is passing The Medicaid Reentry Act. Per BiomedCentral’s Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, opioid-related overdose is the leading cause of death among those released from prison. Those re-entering communities are particularly vulnerable for several reasons, including mental health, trauma, and race. The Medicaid Reentry Act would provide health services for the final 30 days of an inmate’s incarceration and better connections to the community health care network. Some programs would focus on substance use disorder treatment that could significantly decrease post-release opioid-related overdose deaths.
The Biden administration promised during their campaign to address the overdose epidemic. The Biden administration committed to creating a comprehensive public health plan to combat the opioid crisis, including $125B in funding towards treatment, prevention, and recovery services. In the coalition’s letter to Congress, they acknowledged the passing of the American Rescue Plan, which offered $30M in federal funding towards harm reduction services, including syringe service programs and naloxone distribution.