On Wednesday the House Energy and Commerce Committee took its turn at focusing on the Opioids epidemic. This and other recent Congressional hearings are not without irony since they come against a backdrop of efforts to weaken the ACA and Medicaid which have increased access to critical substance use and mental health services. The twin threats of increased substance abuse addiction and reduced access to health care will ultimately increase foster care numbers from child maltreatment to children in foster care to children awaiting adoption.
The Energy and Commerce Committee posted information on the spread of opioid use. Every day 91 people die from a drug overdose. With over 64,000 people dying in 2016. One Committee chart showed that a dozen states are experiencing drug overdose rate deaths of 21 to 41 per 100,000 (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Mexico, Vermont) and another 11 have death rates at 21 to 18 per 100,000 (Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nevada) in 2015. The committee also posts a state by state chart on the number of drug deaths.
Many states are experiencing double digit increases in overdose deaths over the previous year. According to the House chart Alabama had 4600 opioid overdose deaths which equals California’s total. Other significant numbers include 4600 in California, 3300 in Ohio, 3200 in Florida, 3200 in Pennsylvania, 2700 New York, and 2500 in Texas.
The Committee information was part of a member-day hearing that allowed 54 members of the House to talked about how concerned they were about the opioids epidemic. Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said, “Conservative estimates forecast more than 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses each day, while more than 1,000 are treated each day for abusing opioids. In 2016 alone, more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and in Oregon alone, more people died last year from drug overdoses than from car accidents.”
As noted last week, one of the starkest statistics (from the CDC) is that for every opioid related overdose death, there are another 60 addicts out there. Using simple math and Congressman Walden’s statement that would mean there are nearly 2 million opioids addicts. All members testifying expressed their great concern about what opioids is doing in their districts and states.
The Chairman did not indicate next steps by the Committee, rather the intent seemed to be an opportunity for members to express their concerns, comment on legislative actions they have taken, and to highlight their own states.
Some, including Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA), noted the significance the ACA and Medicaid have had on expanding access to treatment. According to the Surgeon Generals’ Report, Facing Addiction in America, only one in five people who currently need treatment for opioid use disorders is receiving it.
As CWLA has noted on many occasions, according to research by Dr. Frank and Dr. Glied, a full repeal of the ACA would result in a loss of coverage for 2.8 million people with a substance use disorder, including 220,000 people who have an opioid addiction. Additionally, it would eliminate mental health coverage to 1.2 million people with a serious mental health disorder.