by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt
The opioid epidemic is devastating lives, families, and communities across the nation, and Missouri is no exception. In 2014, the most recent year for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data is available, more than 1,000 Missourians died from a drug overdose. That’s why I’ve been working in the Senate to combat opioid use disorder, and I’m pleased to announce that we’ve taken a major step forward by sending the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to the president’s desk.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly two million Americans have an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers, and more than half a million have an opioid use disorder related to heroin. Every day, 120 Americans die of a drug overdose, 78 of which are opioid related. All told, heroin and prescription drugs took the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans last year.
The CDC has rightly labeled this an epidemic, but the good news is that effective treatment exists. Last year, 72 percent of individuals in Missouri’s Opioid Treatment Program did not test positive for illicit drugs when subjected to random drug tests. That means that in nearly three-fourths of cases where individuals in Missouri sought treatment, the treatment worked.
The bill that the Senate passed this week, which I cosponsored, expands access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services, and focuses on proven strategies that will strengthen prevention programs and support effective law enforcement efforts.
The policy updates included in this agreement complement efforts I’ve led, as Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, to prioritize resources to combat the opioid epidemic. Last month, the committee passed the first bipartisan Labor-HHS funding bill in seven years, which included a 93 percent increase for programs directly target opioid use disorder. Total funding for opioid-specific programs in this bill has been increased by 542 percent over the past two years I’ve served as chairman. Over the same time, the committee has eliminated 36 ineffective or duplicative programs topping $1.25 billion.
To help more individuals get the help they need, I’ve introduced the Expand Excellence In Mental Health Act. The bill would increase access to certified community behavioral health clinics, which offer programs that treat substance use disorders. Under the measure, the 24 states receiving mental health planning grants through the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which was signed into law in 2014, would be able to participate in a demonstration program that expands access to behavioral health services.
The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, and I’ll continue leading and supporting efforts to expand access to treatment, strengthen our communities, and help more people live longer, healthier lives.