Congress took big steps this past week toward enacting legislation critical to addressing a few key national issues: the opioid epidemic and gaps in mental health services.
Some weeks ago I relayed the good news that the House was working on a slate of bills aimed at combatting the growing heroin and opioid addiction epidemic facing our county. Drug overdoses account for as many as 47,000 deaths a year, and the number of those involving opioid prescription pain relievers has risen drastically over the last several years. Alabama is experiencing a particularly significant increase in opioid overdoses. Our state saw an almost 20 percent rise in opioid overdoses between 2013 and 2014, the last year full data is available, which was the fifth highest nationally.
I’m pleased to report that the House and Senate negotiated a final Conference Report on S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 that addresses these issues. This legislation will marshal the resources of the public and private sectors to better respond to opioid abuse and addiction. Of note, the bill:
- improves prevention and education efforts through the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the National Institutes of Health;
- enhances law enforcement capabilities by authorizing paid-for Department of Justice grants for drug fighting efforts that work;
- focuses attention on treatment and recovery by expanding access to addiction services and opioid overdose reversal drugs through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and
- prioritizes services for veterans by improving drug policies, treatment offerings and patient advocacy efforts within the VA.
The House has passed the package and it now awaits final approval by the Senate.
The House also took an important step toward addressing our country’s mental health crisis. More than 11 million Americans deal with the significant mental health struggles of severe schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Serious mental health problems that go unaddressed can manifest in dangerous ways, as we saw with the terrible tragedies that took place in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, and other places.
My colleague Rep. Tim Murphy has been crafting legislation that would address some of our nation’s deficiencies in identifying and treating mental illness. H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, seeks to reform the broken mental healthcare system by refocusing outdated programs, improving the effectiveness of grants, and removing federal barriers to care. It will take a lot of work to rebuild our nation’s mental health network, but it must be done and this legislation is the first step. It passed by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 407-5 and now awaits action in the Senate.
Opioid addiction and mental health are two acute problems facing our country, and I’m pleased that Congress is taking action on smart legislation to address them.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley and their two children.