While it takes time to change the course of a national health crisis, I am encouraged that noticeable progress has been made to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction in the United States. Because of bipartisan solutions in Congress in recent years and the Trump Administration’s focus on related initiatives, the course of the opioid addiction crisis is indeed starting to change.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provisional estimates of overdose deaths dropped by 5 percent between 2017 and 2018. And as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently pointed out when speaking about the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative, this is the first time in more than 20 years that there has been a decrease in this sobering statistic.
In recent years, Congress has prioritized financial resources to address the opioid crisis. And I am proud that the first significant federal investment in funds to target opioid addiction came while I was chairman of the subcommittee that directs funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While shepherding the funding bill for fiscal year 2017 in the House, my subcommittee included the first ever flexible grant to states for prevention, treatment and recovery services related to opioid substance use disorder.
Lawmakers have continued to prioritize and increase funding for resources to prevent and treat opioid addiction in communities. In fact, as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, funding for programs addressing opioid substance use disorder was increased by $3 billion, and the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill included more than $4.6 billion in total funding for opioid addiction and treatment services. Since 2017, HHS has received more than $10 billion to fund these vital programs. The largest program is opioid response grants for states, including millions allocated to fight the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma communities.
Since opioid addiction exists in most — if not all — American communities, confronting the epidemic has never been a partisan undertaking in Congress. For example, at the end of last year, both chambers passed and President Trump signed into law the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. Made up of several bills introduced throughout last Congress to prevent and end the cycle of opioid abuse, the historic legislation sought to address the symptoms of the epidemic and confront underlying causes of the crisis. This included solutions to improve treatment and recovery options, support non-addictive opioid alternatives for pain management, discourage the high opioid prescription rate and empower law enforcement to keep harmful drugs from entering communities.
Certainly, the fight against the opioid crisis is far from over, but I am heartened that past efforts seem to be making a real difference. In the days ahead, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure states and communities have the resources needed to prevent opioid abuse and save lives.
U.S. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK-04) is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and is the Ranking Member of House Rules Committee. Cole is currently serving in his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was identified as “one of the sharpest minds in the House,” by Time Magazine and “the hardest working Member of Congress,” by Newsmax. In 2017, Cole was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.