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Despite Overdose Crisis, Congress In No Hurry To Renew Big Drug Law

The drug overdose crisis is out of control. Washington, despite a bipartisan desire to combat it, is finding its addiction-fighting programs are failing.

In 2018, Republicans, Democrats and then-President Trump united around legislation that threw $20 billion into treatment, prevention and recovery. Five years later, the SUPPORT Act has lapsed and the number of Americans dying from overdoses has grown more than 60 percent, driven by illicit fentanyl. The battle has turned into a slog, reports Politico. Even though 105,000 Americans died last year, Congress is showing little urgency about reupping the law since it expired on Sept. 30. That’s not because of partisan division, but a realization that there are no quick fixes in prospect under a new law.

“We are in the middle of a crisis of proportions we couldn’t have imagined even five years ago when the original SUPPORT Act was passed,” said Libby Jones of the Overdose Prevention Initiative at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator. “If they can’t pass this, it’s really sad.”

Congress is not coming to the rescue. The ousting of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has brought legislation to a standstill.

Asked why the Senate committee with responsibility for the law hasn’t even begun to consider it, Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said other priorities had precedence. “We’re working on a myriad of problems,” he said, citing the primary care system and lower drug prices.

Fentanyl is the synthetic opioid that accounts for most of the deaths. Fentanyl’s addictiveness, its affordability, and broader trends driving people to use drugs are overwhelming efforts to convince them not to — and to treat them when they do.

Congress can continue to fund opioid-fighting efforts without passing a new version of the SUPPORT Act. Failing to pass another law forfeits the opportunity to try new approaches. That has advocates discouraged.

Despite its dysfunction, the House is further along than the Democratic-controlled Senate. The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a new SUPPORT Act in July. That measure’s limited ambition suggests a reason for the lack of urgency to pass it.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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