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Congress tackles the opioid epidemic. But how much will it help?


 


These are some promising ideas, Mr. Raymond said, but it’s still “playing catch-up. … The big gap is the money, and the broader vision.”

This flurry of activity comes after Congress in 2016 passed two laws directly dealing with addiction and substance abuse disorders, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. CARA promised $181 million – although it didn’t appropriate those dollars – while the Cures Act provided $1 billion over 2 years.

It’s playing out against the backdrop of steady policy tensions.

The Trump administration, which in October declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis, has repeatedly pushed a more punitive approach, such as harsher sentences for drug trafficking, including the death penalty, and establishing mandatory minimum sentences. That emphasis, experts said, detracts from other parts of the plan that might highlight, say, addiction treatment.


Instead, those experts emphasized treatment and prevention as well as “harm reduction” ideas such as providing more overdose-antidote medication and funding programs like syringe exchanges.

They say focusing on punishment has been ineffective in the past and neglects the heart of the issue.

Certainly, curbing the flow of illegal drugs is important, Dr. Wen said. But it’s insufficient by itself. And the size of the problem means lawmakers need to provide quicker, more direct aid – not just proposals that tinker “around the edges.”

“We would never refuse any funding, because we need it desperately,” she said. “But ask us what we need.”

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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