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Editorial: Opioid bill’s passage is good step, but only the first

September 24, 2018

The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have approved legislation to deal with the growing opioid addiction problem that has affected communities throughout the nation. A conference committee will iron out differences between the versions passed in the separate houses before it goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The legislation takes wide aim at the problem, including increasing scrutiny of arriving international mail that may include illegal drugs. It makes it easier for the National Institutes of Health to approve research on non-addictive painkillers and for pharmaceutical companies to conduct that research.

The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to require drugmakers to package smaller quantities of drugs such as opioids. And there would be new federal grants for treatment centers, training emergency workers and research on prevention methods.

Karen Yost, CEO of Prestera Center, said in a statement the 70 pieces of this bill is a good start, though there is no “magic bullet” to solving the opioid crisis.

“How this legislation is implemented will be key as even good legislation implemented poorly will not be helpful,” Yost said.

“This bill is a start in the right direction, even though it does not address significant underlying issues in this epidemic, including adverse childhood experiences, extreme poverty, gainful employment, safe affordable housing, related chronic health problems and co-occurring mental health problems.”

That’s a long list, and it helps explain how this problem became so big and is so difficult to overcome.

Another part of the package is the Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act, which allows Medicaid payments to pay for care at locations such as Lily’s Place, which provides residential care for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their parents. It also reauthorizes the Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women grant program and includes grants to help states implement plans of safe care for substance-exposed infants.

Also in the package are Jessie’s Law and a portion of the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act, which would better facilitate quality coordinated care for individuals with a history of substance use disorder.

The legislation headed toward conference committee does not provide funding for any of the new initiatives. That could be a problem. In the past, Congress has had a habit of authorizing big new programs or construction projects but not paying for them. West Virginia has served as a national template of how severe the opioid addiction problem can be and what can be done to deal with it.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee did approve the Fiscal Year 2019 Labor HHS bill, which includes $3.8 billion for opioid funding. It includes $1.5 billion for the State Opioid Response grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, resources to replace the sun-setting 21st Century CURES funds and 15 percent set aside for the states impacted most by the crisis.

Looking ahead, it’s now up to a conference committee to iron out conflicts in the versions approved by the two houses. Then it’s up President Trump to sign the legislation barring some unknown technical problem with it. Then Congress needs to come up with the money to back its good intentions.

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