The Senate bill and an ongoing opioid crisis

Since the nineties, the United States has seen and unquestionably suffered the effects of a severe and ongoing opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than ninety people die each day on the account of opioid overdose. In 2012, a study by the American Society of Addiction Medicine found that 2.1 million denizens of the States have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, and in 2015, of the 52,404 lethal drug overdose cases, more than half of them were directly related to opioid or heroin abuse.

Efforts to combat the drug abuse epidemic have largely been in Medicaid’s sphere (with grants constituting the other largest means of alleviating the situation). Recent numbers have estimated that approximately 200,000 people receive drug treatment and help from the ACA’s expanded Medicaid, a small relief but certainly not a groundbreaking one with such morbid statistics as those which have listed above.

And unfortunately, the first draft of the recently proposed Senate bill did little to mitigate these numbers or to assuage the fears that have emerged in light of the legislation’s heavy Medicaid cuts; rather, upon its release, moderate senators and citizens alike were concerned that the bill would further advance the opioid crisis due to a rollback of Medicaid’s services and/or eligibility for drug addiction patients. In addition, the bill only allotted a meager two billion for substance abuse services, which would essentially be akin to a bandaid covering a bullet hole.

This past Thursday, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added a new number to the playing field in order to persuade more moderate GOP lawmakers to a passing vote; he pledged $45 billion to combat opioid abuse, funds which senators such as Rob Portman (OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV)—whose states have seen the worst of the epidemic—have desired for years.
Is $45 billion enough, though? Most likely not.

Addiction experts counter that $45 billion might prove itself advantageous for a time, but without an integrated health system to continue regular health care for substance abuse patients, the money would essentially reap zero lasting effects. The drastic cuts to Medicaid in the Senate bill would constitute the loss of such an integrated health system. Senators Portman and Capito are aware of this all too well, and both have petitioned for the proposed cuts to Medicaid to either be lessened or spread out over a more forgiving range than the 2017-2026 period.

It is not clear yet whether GOP leaders will adjust the bill accordingly.