Sen. Rob Portman said Wednesday that the government is too slow in implementing key elements of his drug addiction treatment and recovery bill, which was signed into law last year and which outlines concrete steps the Trump administration can take to fulfill his August declaration that the opioid crisis is a national emergency.
“I think [administration officials] have a commitment to it. I think the president himself has a passion for this issue,” the Ohio Republican told a conference in D.C. on solutions to the opioid epidemic.
At least 21 million people in the U.S. have a substance abuse problem, according to federal data, and the number of opioid-related deaths in 2016 is estimated at over 60,000.
“I think we should move more quickly in implementing the programs in the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act [CARA] — in particular it gives them [the administration] the authorization to do a number of things,” he said, pointing out that a recently formed task force to develop best practices for prescribing pain medications was a major CARA provision.
Mr. Portman also highlighted that CARA makes funds available for research into alternative pain medications. The National Institutes of Health stated last year that complimentary medicine approaches like acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga, tai-chi and relaxation techniques help with the management of chronic pain, the principal reason for opioid prescriptions, and addictions. There is also other research into non-narcotic pain relievers.
“There’s no reason the FDA and other parts of the federal government shouldn’t be much more aggressive in pushing through the pipeline some of these medications,” he said.
“That’s an example where over time, they did move. And my only urging — which was the same thing I said to the Obama administration when the legislation passed last July — is that this is a crisis. This is not your typical law that needs to be implemented slowly over time this needs to be dealt with urgency.”
CARA makes available $181 million each year for programs, research and federal task forces to combat the opioid epidemic. While the government needs to appropriate the funding each year, the amount allocated for 2017 rose to $267 million, Mr. Portman said.
Among the provisions include improving education about the dangers of opioid addiction, the “best practices” task force, numerous grants to states and local non-profits who have programs addressing the epidemic, increasing access to treatment including medication assisted treatments, and other provisions addressing law enforcement, prescribers, pharmacists and others.
Mr. Portman’s home state of Ohio has one of the worst rates of number of drug users and overdose deaths in the nation — an estimated 2,590 people died from an opioid overdose in 2015 and another 1,424 died from a heroin overdose. In May, the Ohio Attorney General filed a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies accusing them of making fraudulent claims about opioids and of downplaying or ignoring the risks of addiction and harm.
Mr. Portman wants to see grants funded by CARA distributed to states and nonprofit groups, specifically for programs that make naloxone — the overdose-reversal medication — widely available and intervention programs that meet addicts in emergency rooms in overdose cases to make addiction treatment immediately available.
“That’s where we see a lot of the drop off, at the time at which they overdose and [naloxone] is applied, sometimes that is an opportune moment to get into treatment, but it’s not immediately available,” he said.
Other areas where the Ohio senator wants to see a government crackdown include the infiltration of fentanyl into the market. The manufactured opioid is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and is causing the number of overdoses to rise across the country.
Mr. Portman said fentanyl is being manufactured in China and being sent to the U.S. through the Postal Service, which is exempt from providing important data to law enforcement on the senders, recipients and package contents.
“FedEx, DHL, UPS, other carriers are required by law to provide advanced data on the packages to law enforcement the post office is not required to do that although Congress has suggested it should do that over a decade ago,” he said.
Mr. Portman’s proposed STOP Act last year, which would require people mailing international packages to the U.S. through the postal service provide electronic advance data, available to federal authorities. Information required includes the name of the sender, the recipient and destination and the contents of the package.
“We’re facing an epidemic that is growing, it’s a public health crisis and it’s clear that its effecting everybody in the country, not just states like mine that are particularly hard hit,” Mr. Portman said. “So it’s appropriate the federal government play an aggressive role in getting this legislation moving.”
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