Trump Budget Drives Fears at Opioid-Epidemic Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – Four experts working to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic urged Congress on Wednesday to loosen the purse strings and put money in state programs.

From helping doctors learn about prescription-drug alternatives to changing treatment options for people battling opiate addiction, there are countless options available to stop an epidemic that kills 91 people every day, experts said this morning, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

“No one, single strategy will be a silver bullet for any epidemic,” said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-director of the RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center.

Pacula and the other experts advocated for a “comprehensive” approach to combat the stark increase in people across the country dying after becoming addicted to painkillers, heroin or other opiates.

Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, told the committee she has “strong support” for federal-state partnerships like substance-abuse treatment block grants that infuse existing state programs with cash.

Mixed in with the substantive proposals presented at Wednesday’s hearing was the testimony of a father whose 34-year-old son overdosed on heroin.

Bill Guy, who now works with the support group Parents Helping Parents, told the committee of the “abject nightmare” of learning about his son Chris’ death over the phone. He called for an infusion of federal dollars into  the treatment and rehabilitation programs he said Chris had trouble accessing.

“Meanwhile, all society is paying for it, either monetarily or emotionally or both,” Guy testified. “Surely it makes sense, even from economic sense, to increase the availability of preventative education and treatment programs, and isn’t it also a compassionate thing to do?”

The opioid epidemic has a common topic in Congress in recent months, with bipartisan concern about the issue widespread in both chambers. But the committee’s top Democrat said Wednesday she was concerned that “reckless cuts” in President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal will hurt programs that could turn the apparent congressional concern into something real. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she was happy that Trump has committed to keeping in place opioid-abuse funding Congress included in a bipartisan health care bill that passed last year, but said the “writing is on the wall” for other programs in Trump’s budget that directly impact the crisis.

“We are in the middle of this crisis, which you can all identify,” DeLauro said at the hearing. “People are dying and we have to make a determination of where our priorities are. And instead of starving those priorities, we need to deal with funding public health emergencies robustly. We have an obligation to react to this crisis with the urgency that it deserves.”

After the hearing Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., downplayed these concerns because of bipartisan agreement on the issue in Congress, which ultimately controls the budget. He also noted it is too early to tell, based on the skeleton budget the White House released last month, what Trump will ultimately propose.

“This is not something you can do on the cheap, and it’s is not something that there’s a single, silver bullet strategy for,” Cole told reporters.

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