U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster: Opioid task force is focused on results
In 2015, I co-founded the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force because it was clear that the opioid epidemic needed a comprehensive and unwavering response to match the seriousness of the growing crisis.
Since that time, our group, which now boasts 105 members of Congress, has consistently worked to build momentum to address this public health emergency. This Congress alone, our task force has held nearly a dozen roundtables to educate our colleagues and the public about the opioid epidemic. We’ve hosted individuals struggling with substance use disorder, people in treatment and recovery, health care providers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts, law enforcement and first responders. I’ve brought New Hampshire leaders such as Nashua Fire Chief Brian Rhodes and the Superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections Ross Cunningham, among others, to Washington to share the innovative work being done in the Granite State.
Our bipartisan cooperation has really started to pay off. Over the past two weeks the House of Representatives has come together in a display of cooperation to take on this crisis by passing dozens of pieces of bipartisan legislation to enhance treatment, long-term recovery, prevention and law enforcement efforts. I’m proud of the role the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force has played in advancing proposals to support those on the frontlines.
In recent days we’ve passed bills that would:
– Improve drug courts for veterans so that our men and women in uniform can access treatment instead of incarceration.
– Create innovative and comprehensive opioid recovery centers in the states hardest hit by the epidemic.
– Provide student loan repayment programs for people who want to work in the substance use disorder field.
– Improve recovery housing, enhance best practices for opioid prescribing and bolster law enforcement’s ability to curtail the trafficking of synthetic opioids.
These accomplishments culminated in Friday’s passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. This comprehensive bill would improve the Medicare and Medicaid programs’ ability to deliver needed treatment and services, increase incentives and authorities for research in new non-addictive drugs, and provide innovative health care delivery models to rural communities like those in New Hampshire. Crucially, it also included legislation I authored, known as the STOP Fentanyl Deaths Act, that will expand our understanding of the scope of the fentanyl crisis that New Hampshire communities know is an incredibly potent driver of the epidemic.
Of course, funding is a critical component of our response to the opioid epidemic and I’ve worked tirelessly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push the Trump administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to prioritize opioid funding to the hardest hit states like New Hampshire so that the people on the front lines get the critical resources necessary to take on this crisis. I’m very encouraged that our demands have been heard and New Hampshire will be receiving nearly $23 million in additional funding to fight this crisis.
At a time of heightened partisanship, it’s rare in Washington to have such a large group of members put their differences aside in the interest of getting real work done for the American people. Our task force has served as an example for the entire Congress. We’ve sent the message loud and clear that the opioid epidemic is a crisis that cannot wait. Lives are being lost and it’s only by coming together across the aisle that we can muster the response families and communities in our state deserve.
We’ve taken critical steps, but there is a long journey ahead and I’m confident that if we face it together we’ll come out stronger on the other side.