Gazette opinion: Key ingredient missing from Congressâ?? opioid solution

Billings Gazette

by Editorial Board

Before leaving Washington for a seven-week vacation, Congress agreed that prescription drug abuse is a serious problem for the nation. With only two senators and five House members dissenting, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is on its way to the president’s desk.

This point of bipartisan solidarity is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal record for this Congress, which recessed with most of its annual work undone. In fact, work on the addiction recovery act isn’t finished. Although CARA authorizes $181 million in emergency spending to help U.S. communities curb the opioid abuse epidemic, the money still must be appropriated. Otherwise, the CARA is mostly empty or delayed promises.

On Wednesday, the same day the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of CARA, more than three dozen Democratic Senators, including Montana’s Jon Tester, sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking him to act on funding for prevention and treatment of opioid addiction. The Democrats also cautioned against cutting other public health programs to fund the opioid initiative.

“We owe all Americans a strong response to the opioid crisis that shows we can work together and eschew extreme partisan goals or political games,” the Democrats said. “That means providing real dollars immediately, strengthening other public health priorities, and staying away from poison pill riders.”

Fortunately, both Tester and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., recognized that opioid painkiller misuse is a sourge in Montana.

“This bill provides needed resources for our health care providers, emergency responders and treatment courts to help treat and stop this epidemic,” Daines said in a news release after voting for CARA.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted this month, 43 percent of Americans said they know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, including 19 percent who say they have a family member who has been addicted.

In Montana, health care and law enforcement leaders have united to reduce misuse. The Montana Medical Association promotes physician education on best prescribing practices and alternatives to opioids. The Montana Prescription Drug Registry was established to help pharmacists and prescribers avoid overprescribing narcotics.

Attorney General Tim Fox has several initiatives to raise public awareness about being cautious with opioids. Many Montana law enforcement agencies, including the Billings Police Department, provide prescription drug disposal receptacles that encourage people to get rid of old or unneeded medicines before they fall into the wrong hands.

Between 2011 and 2013 prescription drug overdoses caused at least 369 deaths and more than 7,200 hospital inpatient admissions and emergency department encounters in our state, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Prescription drugs are commonly abused by men and women on parole and probation, and figure prominently among the substances abused by treatment court participants in Billings and Yellowstone County. Along with meth, opioids are abused by many Montana parents whose neglect of their children has increased the numbers in foster care.

The CARA is a good plan. But without money, the plan is like an inflatable raft without air. As Tester said, “Congress should put their money where their mouth is so we can better combat addiction and keep our families and communities safe.”