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Addiction Moves From Criminal to Public Health Issue in New Opioid Treatment Bill

A bill to expand and fund the fight against opioid addiction cleared a hurdle in the Senate today, paving the way for the bill to land on President Obama’s desk by Friday.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will provide $500 million for new treatment programs, drug education, expanded prescribing of medication-assisted treatment, etc. The bill is less than half of the original $1.1 billion requested by President Obama. Though many in Congress still are not pleased about the lower amount, the bill is expected to fully clear the Senate.

The act does more than just provide necessary funding: It’s a big step toward treating addiction as a public health issue instead of a criminal one.

For example, the bill gives police departments more options for sending people with addictions to recovery programs instead of jail. The Department of Justice will have the funding -- $100 million over five years – to find options other than prison for chronic opioid abusers, and criminal justice systems will be able to use medication-assisted addiction treatments for inmates.

In addition, the bill will allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe addiction treatment medications – a boon for nonprofit addiction treatment centers that may short-staffed when it comes to physicians . Access to the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone will be expanded to workers in community centers and schools – not just emergency workers.

While the issue of funding very likely will be revisited by Congress in the future, the act is a good first step to reducing the criminal stigma of drug addiction and ensuring those who need help will be able to get the treatments they need.

For more on opioids, be sure to check out this AHC on-demand webinar about the CMS CoP hospital requirement on safe opioid use.