Congress can help fight the opioid crisis by passing upcoming mental health package

The opioid crisis has ravaged every corner of our country, and it has only worsened over time. Each of us has been touched by this tragic epidemic, whether it was the death of a family member or friend, a neighbor in our community, or a fellow classmate of our children. There are far too many funerals caused by this preventable public health threat.

Every year, we think we’ve reached a new high of drug overdose deaths in the United States only to see an increase again the following year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Over 107,000 Americans lost their lives due to a drug overdose during 2021 — a 15 percent increase from the previous year and a 123 percent increase from January of 2015.

What is especially troubling is the increase of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl in those deaths: nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths — over 70,000 — were linked to fentanyl. Our home states of Arkansas and Michigan saw an increase of 20.23 percent and 9.31 percent, respectively, in drug overdoses. These statistics are frightening, and it is our duty as members of Congress to work in a bipartisan manner on solutions to combat the opioid crisis head on and put the number of deaths on a downward trend.

Combating the opioid crisis requires a multi-pronged approach at all levels of government. One approach that states, including Arkansas, have successfully undertaken is requiring the co-prescribing of an opioid overdose reversal drug when an opioid is prescribed. Seeing progress at the state level inspired us to bring that practice to the national level by introducing the bipartisan Preventing Overdoses and Saving Lives Act 2.0. Our bill re-authorizes two Public Health Service Act grant programs to combat the opioid crisis and encourages co-prescribing of opioid overdose reversal drugs and increases access to opioid overdose reversal drugs.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Some research suggests that when clinicians prescribe naloxone along with prescription opioids, the risk of an opioid overdose decreases even if the prescription naloxone does not get filled. The naloxone prescription appears to serve as an important educational strategy.” To date, 12 states, including Arkansas, have enacted successful co-prescribing laws, and with our bill, we hope to bring the success we’ve seen at the state level to the national level.

The two grant programs re-authorized in the Preventing Overdoses and Saving Lives Act 2.0 will play a vital role in helping stem the tide of opioid overdoses by providing funding to states and localities to establish programs to prescribe opioid overdose reversal drugs, train and provide resources for health care providers and pharmacists on the prescribing of opioid reversal drugs, offset co-payments and other cost sharing associated with opioid overdose reversal drugs, and establish protocols that connect patients who have overdosed with appropriate treatment.

Our bipartisan bill was recently included as part of a broader mental health package, the Restoring Hope and Mental Health and Well-Being Act, which passed out of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in May. That package is now one step closer to receiving consideration on the floor of the US House of Representatives. We urge our colleagues to prioritize this bipartisan bill that not only empowers states and localities to combat the opioid crisis in a holistic way, but also promotes vital access to behavioral health care services.

Too many families have been devastated because of a drug overdose. The more than 107,000 Americans who died last year are more than just a statistic. They were mothers and fathers, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and loved ones. While our bill is an arrow in the quiver of multiple proposals put out, it’s important for Congress to come together and act quickly on behalf of all Americans. The time to act and save lives is now.

Hill represents the 2nd District of Arkansas. Dingell represents the 12th District of Michigan and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.