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Addiction & Recovery

Families and communities in our district and beyond continue to grapple with the shattering impact of the overdose crisis. We are losing too many loved ones each year.

We have to demand better. This disease of despair deserves a response rooted in hope.

We must broaden our focus from arrests and incarceration alone to include pillars of prevention, treatment and recovery.

And we must transform the way we think and talk about this issue, applying science and practical solutions we know can work to intervene for individuals who find themselves on a path to addiction and those already in crisis, and to support these individuals and their families in finding a path of prevention or recovery.

I’m proud of the major success in my yearslong effort to combat this epidemic with the passage of my Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act. Signed into law by President Biden in December, this bill eliminates outdated requirements that prevented practitioners from prescribing proven addiction treatments like buprenorphine. The recent passage of the MAT Act has dramatically expanded the U.S. health care system’s ability to treat opioid use disorder with buprenorphine, increasing the number of medical professionals who can prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder from 130,000 to 1.8 million with the removal of the X-Waiver. But we still have more work to do to protect the most vulnerable.  

Due to reduced tolerance for opioids and a lack of effective treatment options in prisons and jails, individuals returning home from incarceration face an exponentially greater risk of overdose. In fact, a recent study shows that former inmates are 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose in the first two weeks after their release than the general population. 

With this alarming data in mind, I teamed up last week with a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce the Reentry Act, a bill that empowers states to restore access to Medicaid benefits for incarcerated individuals up to 30 days prior to their release. By allowing inmates to receive addiction treatment and other services before returning home, this legislation will bring targeted treatment to those at the highest risk of overdose. Supported by more than 60 organizations from law enforcement to addiction advocates and religious groups, the consensus is clear that this bill will save lives, lower medical costs, and reduce recidivism.   

As a Co-Chair of the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus in Congress and a member of Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over healthcare, I will continue my fight to ensure treatment on demand so that all those who are suffering from this awful disease have access to treatment and hope.

A History of Action

Rep. Tonko has a substantial record of work to address the growing opioid epidemic sweeping the United States and is leading the charge in to expand access to Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment.

Sponsored Legislation

H.R.2482: Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act of 2019 would end an outdated redundancy in federal law that restricts health providers from prescribing buprenorphine, a proven treatment that has helped countless Americans suffering with a substance use disorder. Providers can already prescribe the drug for pain management but are forced to go through a burdensome process to apply for a special DEA waiver to prescribe it to treat addiction. 

H.R.1329: Medicaid Reentry Act allows Medicaid payment for medical services furnished to an incarcerated individual during the 30-day period preceding the individual's release.

Individuals reentering society after incarceration are some 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose in the first two weeks after release vs. the general population. Former inmates are uniquely vulnerable due to reduced physiological tolerance for opioids, lack of effective addiction treatment options while incarcerated and poor care transitions back into the community.

H.R.3925: Reducing Barriers to Substance Use Treatment Act would prohibit States receiving Federal medical assistance for medication-assisted treatment under Medicaid from imposing utilization control policies or procedures with respect to such treatment, and for other purposes.

Rep. Tonko also co-sponsors:
  • *H.R.4974: MATE Act of 2019 would amend the Controlled Substances Act to require physicians and other prescribers of controlled substances to complete training on treating and managing patients with opioid and other substance use disorders.
  • *H.R.2511: The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment Act allows federal payment for qualified substance use disorder services furnished to inmates in public institutions under state Medicaid programs.
  • *H.R.2439: Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 increases the number of residency positions eligible for graduate medical education payments under Medicare for hospitals that have addiction or pain management programs, with an aggregate increase of 1,000 positions over a five-year period.
  • *H.R.2922: Respond NOW Act works to address the opioid epidemic, and for other purposes.
  • *H.R.1767: Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act increases the number of States that may conduct Medicaid demonstration programs to improve access to community mental health services, and for other purposes.
  • *H.R.3414: Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 would provide for the distribution of additional residency positions to help combat the opioid crisis.
  • H.R.2569: Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act of 2019 provides emergency assistance to States, territories, Tribal nations, and local areas affected by the opioid epidemic and to make financial assistance available to better deliver essential services to individuals with substance use disorder and their families.
  • *H.Res.714: Recognizing addiction as a disease and supporting efforts to prevent, treat, and destigmatize substance use disorder and addiction.

    *denotes legislation with bipartisan sponsors

Public Advocacy

Delivered Constituent's Personal Plea to President Donald Trump During 2018 State of the Union

Paul W. Collins, a retired firefighter with a 27 year career at the Troy Fire Department, reached out to ask the Congressman to please share with the President his family's painful story of loss at the hands of substance use disorder. Collins lost his daughter Ashley to a drug overdose less than a year earlier. He provided references to several photos on social media including one of him holding a sign and wearing his firefighting helmet at a political rally in Albany supporting then-candidate Trump. The Congressman printed the photo and showed it to the President as he was walking up to the dais to deliver his State of the Union.

When asked about the encounter, Tonko explained: "My message was simple. Paul Collins is a constituent of mine and a supporter of yours. His daughter died recently from a drug overdose. He asked me to deliver his personal plea to respond to this crisis. The President's response was something like 'we’ll talk.' I plan to make sure we do. When he was leaving the dais, I repeated to him that we need to work together and the President seemed to acknowledge that. I expect he will remember the exchange. He certainly needs to. because we need the President to get on board with those of us who are actually working on the issue."

Click here to read Rep. Tonko's follow-up letter to the President
(also see: signing photo)

Related coverage:

Spoke with individuals on the road to recovery at New Choices Recovery Center to take suggestions on how to best address Substance Use Disorder with federal reform from Congress.

New Choices Recovery Center has been designated as an OASAS Center of Treatment Innovation (COTI). The COTI Project seeks to increase access to treatment and recovery services  in underserved communities within Schenectady, Saratoga and Montgomery counties by utilizing peer supports, clinical services and emerging technology to support individuals with opioid use disorder toward recovery closer to home.  

Letter to Constituents on Addiction & Recovery, January 22, 2018

On January 22nd, Rep. Tonko sent a constituent letter highlighting the issue, his priorities and the importance of taking immediate and meaningful action that will save lives and help prevent the epidemic from continuing to accelerate. A full page scan of the letter can be found here.

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