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Bipartisan Action Needed to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage the United States amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, with overdose deaths involving opioids reaching a total of 69,710 in 2020, up from 50,963 in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and exposed new and existing problems that must be confronted to tackle the opioid epidemic. This is an issue that transcends partisan divides and calls out for a continuing bipartisan commitment to combatting and defeating the opioid epidemic.

The Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force (“Task Force”), comprised of 144 members of Congress from both parties and led by Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), David Trone (D-MD) and Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA), released its legislative agenda on September 29, 2021. The agenda contains 67 bipartisan legislative proposals, ranging from prevention and treatment to prescriber and healthcare reforms. Many of these recommendations are consistent with evidence-based recommendations that have been made in the past; in particular by President Trump’s bipartisan Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis (“Commission”), chaired by Governor Chris Christie.

There is strong bipartisan consensus about common-sense and evidence-based steps that the federal and state governments can take to combat the opioid epidemic. The Commission, in its final report to the President, urged the federal government to establish a coordinated system to track federally funded initiatives and ensure that there is not only accountability for the use of federal funds, but to ensure that only programs that achieve quantifiable goals are funded. Similarly, the Task Force outlined legislation that would establish an interagency coordinator in an effort to address the disparate federal efforts and ensure that the relevant federal agencies are effectively coordinating their efforts.

Further, both the Commission and the Task Force recommend that states and community stakeholders utilize drug disposal programs. Examples include National Drug Take Back Day and new technologies for monitoring the collection and deactivation of opioids and other controlled substances in both hospital and community settings. Additionally, the Task Force’s agenda includes legislation that would create a grant program to establish and maintain approximately 10,000 prescription drug disposal locations across the country. These programs, especially if they leverage newly developed technology, would help to combat drug diversion in health care facilities, in communities, and at home.

Bipartisan action to combat the opioid epidemic is possible. In 2018, the hard work of the Commission and lawmakers culminated in passage of the SUPPORT Act. Though the passage of the SUPPORT Act was a critical step in the fight against the opioid epidemic, Congress has the opportunity to take actions that build further on the recommendations of the Commission and the Task Force. With COVID-19 exacerbating the opioid crisis, the time is now to enact these common-sense, bipartisan reforms.

Governor Christie and Rich Bagger serve on the Advisory Board for MIDAS Healthcare Solutions, whose mission is to promote and enable the safer use, handling, storage, return, and disposal of transdermal patches, injectables, and oral medications. MIDAS has a range of innovative products, processes and systems in development that link critical accountability and traceability characteristics to medications, their users, dispensers, and caregivers in hospital and community settings.