Press Releases

Kuster Advocates for Solutions to Address the Opioid Epidemic

Washington, DC, January 15, 2020

Watch Rep. Kuster’s remarks here.

Yesterday, Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02), founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, joined her colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for a hearing to examine state efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. During the hearing, Kuster addressed opportunities for future federal support at the state level and her work to reduce recidivism and end the cycle of addiction and incarceration.

“For too long, federal policies have stripped incarcerated individuals of their Medicaid coverage, preventing access to substance use disorder treatment in prisons and jails,” said Kuster. “This is counterproductive to our fight to end the opioid epidemic, which is why I am proud to have introduced bipartisan legislation to allow for Medicaid and its standard of care to be utilized within the criminal justice health care system. In New Hampshire, we have seen firsthand that providing treatment to incarcerated Americans saves lives and taxpayer money. This is a win-win for families, communities and our economy.”

Kuster is a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Health, Energy and Oversight and Investigations. In May, Kuster introduced the Humane Correctional Health Care Act with Senator Cory Booker to repeal the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion and increase access to care for incarcerated individuals to help them successfully return to their communities.

Watch Rep. Kuster speak in the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee here.

Read Rep. Kuster’s full remarks:

Rep. Kuster:

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I just want to say thank you for your leadership.

In my seven years in Congress this is one of the best, most productive hearings I’ve been on and it’s an honor to be on this committee.

I’m the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force that has close to 100 members.

Just to give you a sense of the scope – New Hampshire, as my colleague Mr. McKinley suggested, was hit very hard along with West Virginia – a perfect storm situation.

What I’m proud of is that New Hampshire has some very innovative models coming out of the opioid  epidemic- and, yes, we indeed need to include methamphetamines and cocaine, and the rest.

I want to focus in on a particularly vulnerable population and a particularly expensive population for the taxpayers, for our communities, and for individuals’ personal lives.

And that is the incarcerated population, where we know that at least 65% - and in some of our counties - as high as 85% of our incarcerated population had co-occurring mental health and substance use issues.

One of my big “a-ha” moments in the last 7 years, was to discover that something that passed Congress many, many years ago at the inception of Medicaid called the Medicaid inmate exclusion caused people to lose coverage and lose the funding for health care, namely mental health treatment, substance use treatment during that period of incarceration.

New Hampshire is a Medicaid expansion state, thank God, given the discussion today.

But literally the day you go in, you lose your coverage.

And to me, if we were to design a system that would fail American taxpayers, families, and communities it would be this system.

Because what happens is, people live with very, very high recidivism rates and we all do. We are the taxpayers.

And we have people in incarceration for drug-related crimes, getting no treatment for their mental health or substance use disorder. And when they come out, we all act shocked that they go back to their addiction.

We’re not shocked when they go back to their diabetes – we shouldn’t be shocked when they go back to their addiction.

So, I have introduced legislation called the Humane Correctional Health Care Act.

And what this would do is continue Medicaid coverage during incarceration so that we can ensure treatment for substance use disorder and mental illness.

And what happens that we’ve already demonstrated in New Hampshire is a dramatic drop in the recidivism rate.

From the upwards of 50 – 60% down to 18%.

And I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, left, right, or center – that is saving lives and saving taxpayer dollars.

And I’m very pleased that Mr. McKinley agreed to join today as did Dr. Ruiz.

So, quickly moving on to questions – Dr. Scott, in 2016 I know Rhode Island implemented a statewide treatment program for opioid addiction within your Department of Corrections.

I’d love to get the JAMA studies for the record to share with my colleagues

But can you just explain the overall decrease in overdose deaths and what the outcome so far of that program has been?

Dr. Scott:

Thank you for the question.

The key to the program has been making sure that we have all three FDA-approved medications for medication assisted treatment available to those who are incarcerated.

We also allow for screening of all incarcerated inmates – more substance use disorder, so that if they weren’t previously on an MAT option that was made available to them.

And the final key is making sure prior to the release from incarceration, they are connected to one of our community-based behavioral health agencies.

They become a client in advance and make sure that once they are released, they are able to have a warm hand off directly to continuing to receive recovery and treatment services at the community level.

Rep. Kuster:

And that’s one of they key points for our programs as well - so as I continue to build bipartisan support for this legislation, I’d love to work with you and others.

I know, Ms. Smith, you mentioned housing.

But I would like to work on what those supports are to eliminate the barriers to recovery so that people can be successful in their lives, get back to raising their children, get back to work, and get back to paying taxes.

So thank you, I yield back and I appreciate this hearing.