OP-ED: Task Force Has Agenda to Fight Opioids
By U.S. Reps. Tom MacArthur and Annie Kuster
At a time of divisiveness in Washington, we’ve been committed to staying focused on real solutions to take on the challenges our communities face. The opioid epidemic has left no state untouched. Whether in New Hampshire or New Jersey, addressing substance use disorder cannot fall victim to partisan politics.
The Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, which we chair together, is a productive group of more than 100 members of Congress, Republican and Democratic, that time and time again is able to advance real solutions to this crisis. As Congress considers additional measures to stem the spread of the opioid crisis, we are committed to building on the progress we’ve made and doing right by people in our states and across the country.
The opioid epidemic is having a devastating impact on both our states. New Hampshire, sadly, is No. 3 in the country for overdose death rates per capita. New Jersey’s opioid overdose death rate is three times the national average. Nobody is immune from the suffering, and every community has been impacted. From small rural towns to big cities and suburbs, from well-to-do households to middle-class America, heroin and fentanyl have altered our neighborhoods and left death and destruction in their path. This simply cannot continue.
In 2016, the House of Representatives came together during what we called Opioid Week and 14 task force bills were passed and signed into law. In the coming months, Congress will once again consider legislation to support those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, and we stand ready to lead in this effort.
Earlier in this Congress, we released a legislative agenda that outlines a comprehensive approach to tackling the opioid epidemic. Our measures bolster support for education and prevention, expanding treatment and long-term recovery, as well as law enforcement and interdiction efforts. Already, we’ve seen action on critical components of our proposal.
The INTERDICT Act, signed into law in January, provides enhanced tools to law enforcement to crack down on the flow of synthetic opioids coming into our country from across the border and overseas. We also passed and sent to the president’s desk the VA Prescription Data Accountability Act, which will improve prescription drug monitoring programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. And earlier this year, we led over 40 of our colleagues to successfully protect the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was threatened with budget cuts.
In March, we joined with Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, to introduced CARA 2.0, follow-up legislation to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. CARA 2.0 would authorize an additional $1 billion for the fight against addiction. This is on top of the $6 billion in new funding agreed to earlier this year as part of the bipartisan budget agreement.
But money alone isn’t going to solve this issue, which is why we need to expand innovative programs and promote policy changes that will identify ways to get people the support services they need and to prevent addiction in the first place. We will continue to work across party lines to advocate for bills like Jessie’s Law, which would increase doctors’ access to medical history related to addiction when making prescribing decisions; the CRIB Act, which would create residential pediatric centers to treat babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome; and the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act, which would help our veterans access treatment rather than go to prison.
As we pursue legislative solutions to the opioid epidemic, we will continue to educate our colleagues about successful efforts in our own states. Programs like SAFE Stations in New Hampshire and On POINT in New Jersey can serve as models for communities across the country.
This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, with momentum building to take meaningful action on this crisis. We’re ready to do whatever is necessary and deliver for families everywhere, and urge our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us.
Republican Tom MacArthur represents the 3rd Congressional District in New Jersey, which includes most of Burlington County. Annie Kuster is a Democratic congresswoman from New Hampshire. They are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.