Hoping to curb America’s epidemic of opioid abuse, Congress in July passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Then Congress went on vacation without actually funding the law.
When senators and representatives finally get back to work this month, a top priority must be appropriating the money to address this national emergency.
About 30,000 people die annually from opioid overdose — overdoses of heroin or prescription painkillers including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl. Nearly 1,000 of those deaths occur each year in Kansas and Missouri.
At that estimated rate, about 3,750 people have overdosed and died in the United States since Congress left town without funding its overdose-prevention bill.
Granted, no bill would change the drug abuse landscape instantly. But the clock is ticking. Every day without the resources to implement the opioid bill is a day that dozens of Americans overdose and die.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is supposed to help fight abuse and overdoses by targeting all stages of addiction. It would provide greater access to prevention services and better tools to prevent patients who are legitimately prescribed painkillers from slipping into addiction.
For those people already suffering from the disease of substance abuse, it improves access to treatment services and targets the underlying causes of addiction. It also provides new ways for police and prevention services providers to better fight widespread illegal drug use.
There is a need for a coordinated, concentrated, federal response that bridges the partisan divide. Indeed, the talking points on both sides are nearly identical.
“The opioid epidemic is destroying lives and damaging communities in Missouri and across the nation,” Missouri’s Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said in March.
“This is a public health crisis that’s shaken Missouri and communities across the country,” Missouri’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said in July.
Overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate passed the bill, and the full Kansas and Missouri delegations supported it. President Barack Obama promptly signed it.
Yet the bill remains more of a wish list than serious strategy without funding. Obama had asked for $1.1 billion to implement it. Much of that would have gone to state and local prevention and treatment programs.
Instead, the Republicans who control both chambers of Congress authorized only 16 percent of the requested funding — a woefully inadequate $181 million. Then they headed out of town and have been on vacation ever since.
Things have gotten even worse since as the law of unintended consequences has reared its head. Before leaving town, Republicans also loaded an unrelated bill to fund programs to fight the Zika virus with partisan candy.
Democrats balked at defunding Planned Parenthood and other measures and blocked passage. They quite reasonably insisted that helping protect newborn babies from deformities was worth doing on its own.
As a result, the Obama administration has scrambled to find some money to fight Zika. That has included moving funds from other sources such as … wait for it … substance abuse programs.
Congress gets some credit for passing a bill full of all the right ideas on battling the opioid epidemic. But the law is only full of empty promises until lawmakers agree to put America’s money where its mouth is.