Help Is On The Way: Congress Pledges $1 Billion To Combat Opioid Crisis

The 21st Century Cures Act could be a game changer.

The Senate just passed a new health policy bill, and in it might be the solution to America's opioid addiction epidemic.

The bill, dubbed the 21st Century Cures Act, gives the National Institutes of Health close to $1 billion over 10 years to fund cutting edge research on everything from Alzheimer's disease to cancer. But inside the bill, there is also a provision for $1 billion over the next two years to go towards tackling the opioid crisis.

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Marvin Ventrell, the executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), emphasized to A Plus that the provision is a big symbolic victory in the fight for better treatment.

"It's a really important continuation of the policy development that legitimizes substance use disorder (SUD) as a healthcare disease that needs serious treatment," Ventrell said. "A billion dollars over the course of two years specifically for SUD is huge."

Even the use of the term SUD, according to Ventrell, is an indication of how far policymakers and medical professionals have come in properly identifying addiction as a healthcare crisis. For the millions of Americans who have been affected by the opioid crisis, this bill represents an elevation of the status of substance use disorder and mental health disorders to the level of other major diseases. 

And chances are, it'll lead to better treatment.

A Los Angeles man advocates for the act prior to its passing.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H, emphasized this in an interview with local New Hampshire news station WMUR.

"Well, I think probably the most important aspect is treatment," Shaheen said. "What we know is that only one in 10 people who have substance misuse problems actually get treatment."

The bill also include enforcement of the Mental Health Parity Addiction Equity Act. Included in the Parity Act is language that forces insurers to cover addiction treatment the same way they might cover treatment for heart disease or diabetes. Unfortunately, only about 11 percent of the 23 million Americans who needed treatment for an alcohol or drug problem in 2012 actually received it. A March 2014 survey of NAATP found that 63 percent of those insurance coverage denials involve disagreements between what the insurance companies deem "medically necessary" and what a patient or doctor deems medically necessary. 

In April, A Plus reported on how exactly the opioid crisis ran rampant in America. But we also noted that help was coming, as the effort to push legislation like this seemed to be becoming a non-partisan issue. With the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, it seems the United States has taken a major step towards realizing that goal of solving the epidemic of addiction.

Several recovering addicts I spoke with since the bill passed emphasized that finding quality treatment is largely dependent on your economic status. Some remember halfway houses that seemed uninterested in their sobriety. One man, who spoke to A Plus on the condition of anonymity, spoke about the financial feasibility of entering rehab with what he described as "crappy insurance."

"Basically what I found out was that even making 70 grand a year, with an Obamacare plan, I was paycheck to paycheck because of my student loans," he said. "And I just couldn't afford any kind of evidence-based treatment, unless I had rich parents, which I didn't."

Still, the $1 billion headed towards treatment centers and healthcare facilities is primed to make a big difference. 

"The public healthcare response to addiction has been nonexistent to a large extent in our country and, over the last 24 months, huge progress has been made," Ventrell said. "It's easy to be cynical and say we're throwing more money at the problem, but it's an expensive problem."

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Cover photo: Shutterstock / AR Pictures.


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