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Congress Is Set to Pass a Major Opioid Bill. It May Not Be Enough to Fight the Addiction Crisis

September 18, 2018, 8:55 PM UTC

Something strange happened in Congress on Monday… Lawmakers came together to overwhelmingly pass a piece of reform legislation.

In this case, the legislation was what many deemed a no-brainer—an opioid bill aiming to stymie the scourge of addiction and record opioid-related overdose deaths that have haunted Americans public health over the past decade. The so-called Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 flew through the Senate on a 99-1 vote Monday, a few months after the House of Representatives passed its own opioid bill in June (the differences between the two bills will have to be reconciled, though Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee chair Lamar Alexander said he hopes to have a final deal unveiled by Friday).

Some might consider this a long-overdue, and welcome, show of bipartisan resolve in the face of a national public health emergency. A more cynical take may point to the fact that legislators from red and blue districts alike badly want to tout some progress—any progress—on the federal level to fight the opioid epidemic, which fueled a staggering all-time high of 72,000 American drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s a crisis that cuts sharply across partisan lines.

Regardless, it’s important to explore exactly what the current legislation would (and wouldn’t) do. The bill would, for instance, ramp up efforts to crack down on mailed shipments of deadly substances like fentanyl—the potent opioid that’s made for a growing share of overdose deaths—and includes incentives to promote non-opioid pain treatments.

Those are common sense goals. But, as Politico reports, groups like the National Council for Behavioral Health question how effective they’ll be without long-term, robust funding to fix critical shortfalls such as a lack of sufficient inpatient rehab beds or incentives to push doctors to prescribe opioid addiction treatments.

All parties involved do seem to agree on one thing: Whatever form of the opioid bill that reaches President Trump’s desk will just be the next step in fighting the public health scourge, not the last word.

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