March 22, 2018

Health Committee Considers Three Luján Bills in Response to Opioid Crisis

[WASHINGTON, DC] –Three bills authored by Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) were today considered by the House Subcommittee on Health, an important step as the legislation advances in the House. The bills will help states address the on-going opioid abuse crisis, improve services for patients seeking treatment and deal with critical shortages in the behavioral health care workforce.

The New Mexico lawmaker noted that today, due to lack of services, those who battle mental health and substance abuse issues often cycle between emergency rooms, jails, and homeless shelters. As a result, too many families are hurting, too many people are suffering, and too many Americans are unable to access the care they need.

The first of Luján’s bills, which he is cosponsoring with Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH), provides $75 million for peer support technical assistance centers. The funding provided in the legislation would allow greater access to peer support programs for those seeking treatment. Luján said that demand for peer support and other behavioral health services is growing dramatically – especially in rural areas like northern New Mexico. Many of those coming forward have the same question: how can I find care for myself or for a loved one?  Luján noted that the current system for treating addiction is not sufficient to serve everyone who needs help, and said peer support workers are one of the most important tools we can use to increase the addiction recovery workforce in this country.

“If we want states to build and maintain strong behavioral health systems, then we must provide the necessary support. This legislation will have a broader impact as well. Peer support specialists are individuals who have been through mental health treatment themselves, and undergo extensive training to be able to support others through their treatment,” noted Lujan. “The real-world experiences of peer professionals bolster workforce expertise and guarantee inclusion at all levels of the delivery system.”

Luján’s second bill, the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act, which is cosponsored by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-OH), Gene Green (D-TX) and Larry Buschon (R-IN) would establish a grant program to create and operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers across the country. Each opioid recovery center would provide a range of treatment and recovery services including drug and withdrawal management therapies, peer support and counseling, as well as job training and placement programs. Luján said these centers would be located in areas of the country with the greatest need such as those determined to have high per capita drug overdose mortality rates.

“Experts have told us that a comprehensive approach to treatment and recovery – and recovery centers that offer a range of services for their patients – dramatically improve outcomes. This bill allows for the creation of at least 10 such centers nationwide and prioritizes their placement in areas where they are most needed,” said Luján. 

The third bill in the series would directs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide labeling guidance for non-addictive pain medication. This will allow prescribers to better understand how to use non-opioid pain medications in lieu of opioids.

“To get a handle on the opioid epidemic and to make headway in reversing the current trend, we must take a hard look at alternatives to prescribed opioids. This bill will help provide real alternatives that are supported by good data,” Luján said.