Boozman, Heitkamp Join Center Forward to Discuss Opioid Epidemic as House Passes Bipartisan Legislation

September 29, 2018 by TWN Staff

As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the United States, Congress – in a rare occurrence of bipartisan cooperation – reached a deal this week on legislation addressing the crisis. The House of Representatives on Friday voted 393-8 to pass the compromise bill, which was the result of months of hearings and deliberation in both chambers. The Senate is also expected to approve the bill in the coming weeks before sending it to President Trump’s desk.

As H.R. 6, the “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act,” made its way to the House floor, two senators who have spent years working on legislation – on the state and federal level – to combat the opioid epidemic sat down to discuss the crisis and what Congress is doing to fight back. Moderated by Los Angeles Times congressional reporter Jennifer Haberkorn and hosted by Center Forward, a centrist Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering bipartisan conversation, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) offered insight into the compromise legislation and what more Congress should be doing.

“Trying to control the supply is the only way we are going to control the problem,” said Heitkamp in discussing the root of the epidemic. But the North Dakota senator also argued for a holistic, community-based approach that provides support for the children affected, not just those who are addicted. “We have record numbers of children going into foster care as a result of the addiction crisis,” she said. “I think it’s not enough just to think about the addicts and rates of overdoses. I think we’ve got to think about the whole continuum.”

The compromise legislation provides grants to state Medicaid programs to help increase the number of substance use disorder providers and services. It also increases access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment for children and pregnant women covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and ensures former foster youth are able to keep their Medicaid coverage across state lines up to age 26.

Boozman has said of the bill, “The comprehensive response to this crisis shows how committed we are as a nation to combatting opioid addiction. Boozman specifically praised the bill’s expansion of a grant program to train first responders administering naloxone—the drug that can be used to block the effects of opioids and prevent deaths from an overdose — by highlighting the lives it has saved in Arkansas.

For Heitkamp, this has been a decades-long battle. Since fighting North Dakota’s methamphetamine crisis as the state’s attorney general in the 1990s, she has introduced and passed multiple pieces of legislation to provide additional federal resources to combat opioid abuse, including a bill to expand a federal grant program to provide $12 billion over five years for local organizations to treat drug abuse and addiction while preventing further overdoses.

Boozman has focused his work on providing assistance to veterans struggling with substance abuse. The Arkansas Republican pushed for a policy that requires VA practitioners to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database when prescribing medication in order to more closely monitor a veteran’s prescription history and pressed for grant funding to Veterans Treatment Courts that was incorporated in the Comprehensive Addiction to Recover Act (CARA).

The full panel discussion can be watched HERE.

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