COMMENTARY

Landmark opioids bill can save lives, get Kentucky back to work

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The epidemic of opioid and substance abuse affects families in virtually every neighborhood in America. Its deadly toll hit a staggering record n Kentucky, where more than 1,500 people died from a drug overdose in 2017 alone.


The only way to solve this crisis is through coordinated efforts at the local, state and federal levels. As the Senate Majority Leader, I have made responding to addiction a national priority. That’s why I prioritized the passage of a lanidmark bill with four aims: to reduce the abuse of opioids, to encourage recovery, to provide support to caregivers and families, and to drive innovation and long-term solutions.


President Trump signed our law, the “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act,” that includes new programs designed to keep families safe. For example, it takes steps to stop illegal drugs and synthetic opioids from crossing the border. The law provides states the tools they need to improve access to treatment and encourages educational programs in schools to help prevent addiction before it starts. Finally, it invests in the development of non-addictive painkillers and in research of mental-health factors that may contribute to addiction.


I was proud to author two provisions in the bill that I believe can make a positive impact on Kentucky and the nation.


First, my “CAREER Act” was developed with treatment professionals, community stakeholders and local employers to address the consequences of substance abuse on Kentucky’s workforce. A recent study showed that between 1999 and 2015, approximately 48,200 Kentuckians left the workforce for an opioid-related problem. The decline in workforce participation not only slows our state’s economy, but it also contributes to increased poverty and strained government services.


My “CAREER Act” encourages local businesses and treatment groups to form partnerships helping those in recovery find and maintain employment. It also supports transitional housing options for individuals in recovery while they work to secure a longer-term living arrangement. Centerstone Kentucky is a provider of a number of treatment services to recovering individuals, and its president, Anthony Zipple, said this provision “will play a meaningful role in extending those in recovery a real chance to experience stability and the long-term advantages of gainful employment.” 


The new law also included my “Protecting Moms and Infants Act” to help stop the heartbreaking effects of babies born into addiction. In 2015, I sponsored the first federal law to address prenatal opioid exposure, directing federal agencies to develop strategies in response to this tragedy. My new provision goes further and instructs the agencies to report on their implementation of treatment guidelines. It also authorizes increased grant resources to help organizations battling this particularly troubling problem in our society.


In addition to establishing new and innovative programs in this law, we’ve taken aggressive steps to ensure federal funding is available for our comprehensive response. Within the last few months alone, Congress has approved more than $8 billion for prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts. Furthermore, since I became Majority Leader, federal funding dedicated to this effort has increased nearly 1,300 percent. An example of this funding in action is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent announcement that Kentucky will receive more than $31 million to combat this crisis and that an additional $5 million will be provided to 20 community health centers across the state.


This initiative builds off of other major laws I have led the Senate in passing to address substance abuse, including the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act” and the “21st Century CURES Act.” Together, they made large strides against opioid and substance abuse by developing grants to help keep communities safe and by investing unprecedented resources to boost local efforts.


If you are interested in applying for competitive federal grants to help fight the opioid crisis, my office is able to write letters of support. I hope you will contact me at mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/grants.


As long as Kentucky families endure the harsh realities of addiction, I will continue to make fighting this epidemic a top concern in the Senate. We’re making significant progress, especially with this landmark legislation, but there’s still more to do. I will keep working with families, treatment professionals and law enforcement to confront this crisis and protect our loved ones.


Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the Senate Majority Leader.
 


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