Sep 24 2018
Legislation Would Target Shipping of Illegal Drugs, Promote Telemedicine and Research
The current opioid epidemic has become one of our nation’s leading killers, demanding an aggressive and comprehensive response from Washington. A major legislative package passed by the Senate this month would significantly strengthen the support Congress is providing to states and communities on the front lines of opioid addiction.
Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show fatalities from drug overdoses have continued to increase over the past year. They exceed the number of deaths caused by car accidents. The problem is so pervasive that President Trump has declared it a “public health emergency.” Last year, 256 Mississippians died from drug overdoses. Most of these deaths were opioid-related.
Measures to Keep Drugs Out, Make Treatment More Accessible
The “Opioid Crisis Response Act” harnesses policy ideas from five Senate committees to prevent and treat opioid abuse. One of the measures would institute new requirements at the Postal Service for screening international mail, stopping the deadliest drugs from getting into the country in the first place. Powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl – often shipped from China – are making the problem worse. Fentanyl contributed to nearly half of the opioid deaths in 2016.
Congress is also turning to technology to help facilitate a lasting recovery. Included in the Senate’s opioid bill is the “Expanding Telehealth Response to Ensure Addiction Treatment Act.” I coauthored this legislation to promote telemedicine as an accessible and effective treatment option for substance abuse. The measure would lift Medicare restrictions on the use of these telehealth services, enabling those who are suffering to get help more easily.
Innovative Approaches for Public Health
Alongside these technological advancements is the promise of breakthrough research, such as the development of a non-addictive painkiller that could offer relief for pain without the risk of dependency. The “Opioid Crisis Response Act” recognizes the need for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to do this cutting-edge research, offering greater flexibility to help expedite a successful outcome. A non-addictive painkiller is within our reach: NIH Director Francis Collins has suggested it could be developed within five years.
I am encouraged by Congress’s support for innovative approaches to our nation’s most devastating health challenges, such as opioid addiction or Alzheimer’s disease. I authored the “EUREKA Act” in 2015 as a way to get the nation’s brightest minds working together toward a cure for Alzheimer’s. The law directs NIH to create prize competitions that offer a financial reward to those who achieve research success. The first of these prize competitions is already underway, announced by the NIH’s National Institute on Aging earlier this month. I am optimistic it will lead to a breakthrough in caring for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The same determination and creative thinking should be applied to the opioid crisis.