Congressman Tim Ryan Applauds President’s Actions to Address Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic

Washington, DC – Congressman Tim Ryan today applauds President Obama’s plan to address our nation’s growing heroin and prescription drug epidemic. President Obama announced his actions at this year’s National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.

“I applaud President Obama for today’s actions and his continued commitment to ending our nation’s ever growing prescription drug and heroin epidemic. Right now, 2.1 million Americans are abusing prescription pain relievers – yet only 1 in 10 suffering from substance abuse gets treated.  This is costing our nation $600 billion nationally in health, crime and lost productivity costs, but that is nothing compared to the toll it is taking on our families and friends. In our state of Ohio, drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death, we cannot continue to allow heroin and prescription drugs to reap havoc on our communities.

"As the Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, I have heard from many constituents and groups from around the country, and personally I have seen these tragedies play out in my own community. I promise to continue working with the President and call on my Congressional colleagues to pass the Comprehensive  Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and help to bring an end to this horrible epidemic,” said Congressman Ryan.

Together, President Obama’s actions have made clear that addressing this epidemic is a priority for his Administration, and today's actions represent further steps to expand access to treatment, prevent overdose deaths and increase community prevention strategies.  But the House of Representatives also has a part to play – Congressman Ryan has called on, and will continue to call on the House to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery (CARA) Act, which Ryan introduced in February of 2015. The Senate passed its version of CARA with overwhelming bipartisan support, it is time for the House to do its part. This wide-ranging legislation provides for a robust response to the prescription drug and heroin epidemic that includes prevention, law enforcement strategies and the expansion of evidence-based treatment.

President Obama announced the following Administration actions today:

Expanding Access to Treatment:  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed rule to increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients with the goal of expanding access to this evidence-based treatment while preventing diversion.  The proposed rule aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and behavioral health supports for tens of thousands of people with opioid use disorders.  

  • Congressman Ryan has been a longtime supporter of this initiative and is a cosponsor of the TREAT Act which similarly increases the number of patients a buprenorphine (Suboxone) prescriber can treat and expands the ability to prescribe buprenorphine to nurse practitioner and physician assistants.

Implementing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity in Medicaid:  HHS is finalizing a rule to strengthen access to mental health and substance use services for people enrolled in Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans by requiring that these benefits be offered at parity, meaning  that they be comparable to medical and surgical benefits.  These protections are expected to benefit more than 23 million people in Medicaid and CHIP. 

  • Congressman Ryan has been a longtime supporter of this initiative and has lead multiple letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize and implement this rule.

Preventing Opioid Overdose Deaths:  SAMHSA is releasing a new $11 million funding opportunity to States to purchase and distribute the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and to train first responders and others on its use along with other overdose prevention strategies.

  • Congressman Ryan has been a longtime supporter of this initiative and is a cosponsor of Stop Overdose Stat Act which similarly requires SAMHSA to enter into cooperative agreements to reduce deaths from drug overdoses by: purchasing and distributing naloxone, and educating or training the public, first responders, or health professionals on drug overdose prevention or response.

Establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force:   The President is signing a Memorandum today directing the creation of an interagency Task Force, to be chaired by the Domestic Policy Council, to advance access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment; promote compliance with best practices for mental health and substance use disorder parity implementation; and develop additional agency guidance as needed.  

Expanding Public Health-Public Safety Partnerships to Combat the Spread of Heroin:  The Office of National Drug Control Policy is expanding its heroin initiative among regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) by adding Ohio and Michigan to the effort.

Investing in Community Policing to Address Heroin:  The Department of Justice's COPS program is announcing a $7 million funding opportunity called the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Program to advance public safety and to investigate the distribution of heroin, unlawful distribution of prescription opioids and unlawful heroin and prescription opioid traffickers.  

Tackling Substance Use Disorders in Rural Communities:  On Monday, the Department of Agriculture announced that its $1.4 million Rural Health and Safety Education Grant Program to enhance the quality of life in rural areas through health and safety education projects has been expanded to include a focus on addressing the critical challenges related to substance use disorders in rural communities across the country.

Implementing Syringe Services Programs:  HHS is issuing guidance for HHS-funded programs regarding the use of Federal funds to implement or expand syringe services programs for people who inject drugs.  Syringe services programs are an effective component of a comprehensive approach to preventing HIV and viral hepatitis among people who inject drugs.  The bipartisan budget agreement signed by the President last year revised a longstanding ban on these programs and allows communities with a demonstrated need to use Federal funds for the operational components of syringe services programs. 

New Private Sector Commitments to Address the Epidemic: In connection with today's Federal announcements, more than 60 medical schools are announcing that, beginning in fall 2016, they will require their students to take some form of prescriber education, in line with the newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, in order to graduate. Schools include: 

  • Ohio State University College of Medicine
  • Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine