President Donald Trump today signed into law “landmark” legislation to counter an epidemic of opioid abuse that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year, causing heartbreak across the country, including in the U.S. heartland.
Trump called the legislation he was signing, in the East Room of the White House, “the single largest bill in our history” to fight drug addiction. The room was packed with lawmakers, Cabinet members, reporters and a score of executives whose companies – including Walmart, Google, Amazon, Signa and CVS Health – have put together ambitious programs to combat the epidemic.
Among other things, the legislation makes it easier for Medicaid patients to get treatment for drug addiction. It increases policing of the mail that accounts for much of the opioid trade and supports research to find less addictive drugs for pain management. Additionally, it includes provisions aimed at preventing “doctor-shopping” by improving prescription drug monitoring by the states.
The Senate passed the opioids package by a vote of 98-1 while the House approved its version 393-8. The congressional action came nearly a year after the Trump administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, an action that set priorities in tackling the epidemic. Congress has allotted more than $8 billion this year to combat drug abuse. Still, experts say that isn’t near enough to deal with the crisis.
In a release, Zippy Duvall, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, thanked Congress for passing the Support for Patients and Communities Act with unprecedented bipartisan support and the president for signing the legislation, noting that “opioids are stalking rural America.”
“Our farmers and ranchers once thought addiction was predominantly something cities had to deal with,” Duvall said. “Sadly, we know now that opioids are taking the lives of Americans from all walks of life. And unlike years ago, rural America is showing some of the highest rates of opioid addiction anywhere.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 2017 more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, up almost 7 percent from the previous year. Opioids accounted for more than 49,000 of those deaths, the CDC says.
Still, there are signs that the attention focused on the crisis may be producing results. New preliminary data published this week by the National Center for Health Statistics showed overdose deaths nationwide, while still exceedingly high, declined in the months leading up to March 2018, the most recent month for which data was reported.
"The seemingly relentless trend of rising overdose deaths seems to be finally bending in the right direction," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said of the new report. "Plateauing at such a high level is hardly an opportunity to declare victory. But the concerted efforts of communities across America are beginning to turn the tide."
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