President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation addressing the opioid crisis into law Wednesday. The bill contains federal funding expected to provide treatment and services in Clark County.
The bill focuses on preventing addiction through improved access to treatment centers and eliminating some coverage restrictions for patients on Medicare or Medicaid.
Nationwide, nearly 48,000 people overdosed from opioid use last year. In Clark County 39 people died as a result of opioid overdose, and 732 deaths occurred statewide.
“Together, we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction in America,” Trump said at an event celebrating the bill’s signing. “We are going to end it or we are going to at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.”
Trump declared the epidemic an emergency last October. A report from the Government Accountability Office, released this week, evaluated the results of Trump’s emergency declaration at the request of Democrats, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. The report found the White House fell short on its promises. In the last year, only three new authorities were granted as a result of the emergency, which included giving two states permission to progress faster with programming and providing support for proposed research initiatives.
In a statement, Murray said, “While President Trump’s repeated failures to live up to his promises are disappointing, I’m glad Congress has been able to lead the way on taking meaningful steps to help the families and communities on the front lines of this crisis by providing additional funds and passing a comprehensive bill to address the root causes and ripple effects of this epidemic.”
The bipartisan bill signed Wednesday, known as the Support for Patients and Communities Act, institutes several policy changes and reinstates funding pools, but has been criticized for a lack of substantive new funding resources.
• It reauthorizes funding for the Cures Act, which sets up a $1 billion grant to provide states with funding to better address opioid addiction.
• It brings back $75 million in funding for drug courts. Last year, Clark County received $400,000 for its Adult Drug Court Recovery Program.
• It reauthorizes State Targeted Response grants, from which Washington has received $43 million in the last three years.
• It expands a program that gets first responders to carry naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdoses.
• It changes a law that prohibited Medicaid from reimbursing treatment at some facilities with more than 16 beds.
• It also includes a provision drafted by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to hold drug manufacturers accountable for misleading and negligent distribution practices through increased penalties and fines.
“This legislation couldn’t come at a more important time,” Cantwell said in a press release. “This crisis is ravaging our communities, it’s impacting families, and we need to do all we can to help those on the front lines.”
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, said she was proud to support this legislation and is also all too familiar with the impact the opioid crisis has had on Southwest Washington.
“These stories motivated me to stand with my Republican and Democrat colleagues to advance this package that will address stronger addiction recovery and treatment services, research nonaddictive pain relief, and help stop criminals who abuse the Medicare program and defraud seniors to traffic illicit drugs,” Herrera Beutler said. “With this new legislation, more people will have access to resources to help them climb out of the pit of addiction and have hope for a bright future.”
In Vancouver, Lifeline Connections Chief Executive Officer Jared Sanford said that what the community needs is a multi-pronged approach. Sanford noted the bill’s massive size, and stated it’s probably one of the largest legislative accomplishments concerning substance use in generations.
He added that the bill is a “great step in the right direction,” and said that for the last seven years, the primary choice of drugs for people who use Lifeline is opioids. Lifeline provides substance abuse and mental health services in Clark County.
“The opioid epidemic is affecting our community,” Sanford added.
Steven Morrison, the director of substance use disorder services with Columbia River Mental Health Services, said the bill is encouraging, but added that often in packages such as this “funding is very limited, especially for nonprofit organizations,” such as Columbia River Mental Health and Lifeline Connections.
Morrison said that generally, law enforcement and other areas of response get more attention and funding. He explained that he would like to see more resources dedicated to intervention, prevention and education.
“It’s a good start. It’s a question about what we end up seeing at the local level,” he said. “How it trickles down is always the big question.”
Wyatt Stayner of The Columbian contributed reporting to this story.