Amid a nationwide opioid epidemic, a group of attorneys general is urging Congress to pass a bill that would give more Americans access to affordable drug addiction treatment.
A coalition of 39 attorneys general and the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter [PDF] today to lawmakers calling for them to pass the HR 2938, the “Road to Recovery Act,” which would remove a 50-year-old provision in the Medicaid program that the states say acts as “a barrier to residential addiction treatment.”
The epidemic continues
Citing a recent study that found 65,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, the AGs note that while they fight the battle in their states by arresting drug dealers and taking drugs off the streets, “we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, because it is not just a public safety challenge — it is a public health challenge as well.”
The letter points out that many people develop opioid addiction after they’re prescribed drugs for medical reasons, due to the addictive properties of opioid drugs.
“Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime,” the AGs write. “If we truly want to end this crisis, we need to focus on its root causes, including a lack of treatment for those suffering from addiction.”
Out with the old…
The provision in question — known as the “Institutions for Mental Diseases” [PDF] exclusion — was originally included in the 1965 Medicaid legislation to prevent funding for large, residential mental health facilities and thus, “discourage the use of inhumane and ineffective state-run asylums,” the AGs note.
That provision did lead to the closure of many inhumane institutions, but the attorneys general say it limits Medicaid funding for residential treatment facilities, which can be an important tool in battling drug addiction.
This bill would remove the restriction for drug treatment and make it affordable for those who need it, the AGs claim, while also creating market incentives for new treatment resources and making it easier for children to access drug treatment.
“If we have any hope of reversing this terrible trend, we need every treatment option at our disposal,” the AGs write in closing. “Therefore, we respectfully ask you to work to ensure the passage of HR 2938 to help us fight this epidemic.”