House Republicans from Ohio testify on proposed solutions to opioid crisis

Republican U.S. Reps. Brad Wenstrup, Steve Stivers and Mike Turner of Ohio testified before a congressional panel on Wednesday about the opioid epidemic’s impact in their home state, and legislative proposals to address the issue.

Members of Ohio’s delegation testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health as part of a bipartisan “Member Day” that enabled lawmakers to share stories, cite statistics and highlight legislative proposals to address the opioid epidemic.

Wenstrup said his office recently surveyed constituents and received hundreds of pages of responses of heartbreaking stories about opioid addiction. One response was from a mother of four boys, three of which were struggling with addiction.

“Clearly, this epidemic is devastating for southern Ohio, as it is across the country,” Wenstrup said. “In one county alone, the overdose death rate was 37.5 per 100,000 residents. In another county, 318 residents died of an unintentional drug overdose in 2016. This spring, the Columbus Dispatch reported that at least 4,149 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2016.”

During his testimony, Stivers called for congressional oversight to ensure federal funding supports evidence-based treatments, and for data collection and research on new therapies to help vet innovative approaches in the future.

“There is no single legislative fix to this epidemic,” Stivers said. “But it is essential that we explore all possible avenues when it comes to helping individuals, families and communities that have been absolutely decimated by addiction.”

Additionally, Stivers noted that he drafted a provision of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) that was signed into law in 2016 that allows for the partial fill of prescriptions. He also applauded the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for announcing it would no longer link patient satisfaction scores, which help determine reimbursement rates, to “pain management.”

“Physicians and pharmacists need to be able to have conversations with their patients about pain management, develop treatment plans that are unique to the individual and focus on the long term health of the patient over short-term benchmarks,” Stivers said.

Turner testified that current estimates suggest that 800 people could die from opiate overdoses in his home district’s primary county, Montgomery County, this year, which would more than double the 371 overdose deaths recorded there in 2016.

“Recently, working in conjunction with the county sheriff, I have called for the appointment of a Dayton-area drug czar to help us streamline and coordinate our region’s response to this epidemic,” Turner said.

He highlighted his bill, H.R. 982, The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment Act, the TREAT Act. “As the title suggests, the TREAT Act would increase access to substance abuse treatment by lifting two restrictions that hamstring full deployment of federal resources,” Turner said.

Facilities with more than 16 beds are currently ineligible for substance abuse treatment reimbursement through Medicaid’s Institutes for Mental Disease exclusion. Additionally, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) policy limits substance abuse treatment grants to community-based treatment facilities, which excludes jails.

“My TREAT Act offers a common sense solution that would eliminate these barriers to treatment for individuals who are incarcerated by allowing Medicaid to reimburse for substance abuse treatment services furnished to individuals who are incarcerated,” Turner testified.

“There’s no reason why someone who is Medicaid eligible should lose their benefits the moment they become incarcerated,” he added. “Lifting the SAMHSA policy that prohibits the use of grant funding for providing substance abuse treatment to individuals who are incarcerated would also assist.”