Experts Critical of Congress’ Response to Opioid Epidemic

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Congress is at work on next phase of its response to the opioid epidemic, but according to experts, their response is failing to deliver compared to the scope of the crisis, especially when it comes to funding for treatment.

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Experts say that states need more money over a longer period of time and that most of the country lacks the proper infrastructure to tackle the epidemic.

The opioid epidemic has been addressed in several spending bills and standalone measures. Recently, Congress came up with more than $4.5 billion to tackle the opioid epidemic, a nearly 200% increase from 2017. They’re currently working on another legislative package.

“A lot of money has gone to states to support treatment for opioid addiction … These grants have provided valuable impetus to get health organizations and communities to buy into addiction treatment,” Anna Lembke, associate professor and medical director at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, said in an interview with Axios.

Still, experts are critical of Congress’ timing because although the opioid epidemic was declared a national public health emergency, it’s been several years in the making. Of the 20.5 million Americans who had a substance use disorder 2015, it’s estimated that 2 million Americans had a substance use disorder involving prescription painkillers, and 591,000 Americans had a substance use disorder involving heroin.

According to Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University, $60 billion is necessary for opioid treatment over a 10-year period. That way, states have time to establish treatment infrastructure and hire more health care workers.

Kolodny’s recommendation exposes a parallel between federal funding and recovery. In recovery, we know that positive, lasting outcomes are borne from long-term, ongoing treatment. Recovery is a process; something that needs to be sustained over time–just like funding.

“You can’t give states one-time money and expect them to start building a new system,” Kolodny said.

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It’s not known how much of Congress’ new legislative package will allocate to treatment programs. Some funds are set aside for other priorities set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services, like providing support for research on pain and addiction and advancing better practices for pain management.

“All of the proposals with any traction on the Hill are short-term, when what is needed is to permanently enhance the funding of addiction treatment within Medicaid and Medicare so that the system provides high-quality care integrated with the rest of the health care system for the long-term,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University.

“Where we need to be spending the bulk of this money is to build out a new treatment system that doesn’t really exist yet,” Kolodny said.

It raises a good point: the country’s existing treatment infrastructure needs a massive overhaul, including creating a workforce of trained health care providers who know how to treat addiction. Medical training for addiction treatment just isn’t up to par.

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At Guardian Recovery, we’re working to combat the opioid epidemic every day. Our comprehensive yet practical approach to treatment has helped hundreds of people recover from opioid addiction and reclaim their lives. For more information about how our recovery services can help you or someone you love, contact a Guardian Recovery Specialist today.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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