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On Wednesday, December 6, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on opioids and the role that the appropriations should play in continuing to address the crisis.

In his opening remarks Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) said that the drug epidemic was the worst in history citing the fact that overdoses will exceed annual auto related fatalities in a year.  He indicated that the purpose of the hearing was to determine how the Subcommittee could weigh-in on what is needed as they continue to work on the current appropriations for this year.

As it relates to appropriations, Blunt said that he wanted to examine and hear testimony and receive input on three areas:  First, understanding the best options for treating an opioid use disorder, saying:

“…this means recognizing that behavioral health issues should be treated like any other physical health ailment. Mood and anxiety disorders double the risk of addiction…we need to ensure that those suffering can access effective treatment – and that should include mental health services.”  

He went on to say we need to stem the number of individuals who become addicted in the first place and went on to discuss prevention strategies and said finally, “simply reducing opioid prescriptions does not address the core problem of the crisis – effective pain management.  We need to focus on developing new pain treatments as adequate alternatives to opioids.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the Ranking Member of the full committee, also offered opening comments that included his emphasis on the role of Medicaid and its role in treatment.  Leahy emphasized the actions his home state of Vermont has taken in addressing the addiction and said Medicaid played a vital role in that state’s efforts.  Leahy also said that the President’s Commission and the Administration needed to follow up their recommendations with funds.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who joined the hearings later while shuttling between committee hearings, came in with some serious criticism of the Administration and their lack of urgency in funding and support.  She said states needed supplemental funding now and not later in next year’s budget.

The Subcommittee also took testimony from former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and member of the President Commission, Dr Francis Collins, Director, NIH, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for SAMSHA, and Dr. Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H. Director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

Senator Blunt closed out the hearing asking the Director of SAMSHA to examine and expand on some state and local sites that are working at greater coordination between behavioral health and health care to see if money can be saved along with better outcomes for patients.  CWLA has joined onto a Safe States Alliance letter asking for additional prevention funds highlighting that the short-term increase of $500 million was did not include an allocation for prevention efforts.