Our capital region is fighting back against the opioid epidemic   

August 31, 2019

Throughout my years of public service, I have made strengthening access to mental and behavioral health care, including addiction treatment, one of my highest priorities. Right now, as you read this, just one in five Americans with a substance use disorder is getting the treatment they need to find and stay on the path of recovery.  

Recent weeks have brought promising news that the skyrocketing death toll of America’s opioid crisis may finally be slowing, including right here in our Capital Region. With Congress out of session for this week leading up to Overdose Awareness Day today, I decided to spend the time catching up with some of the folks who are working in our communities to combat this crisis and save the lives of our friends and neighbors who have been caught up in this deadly epidemic. 

I heard courageous new friends speak about their personal battles with this illness. I grieved with families whose lives have been torn apart by substance use disorder. I listened and conversed with members of law enforcement about the actions we can take. Here’s some of what I did this week:

  • I toured the New Choices Recovery Center and spoke with program leaders and patients sharing their firsthand experiences with substance use disorder. I learned about individuals as young as 18 and as old as 62 who sought treatment for themselves and families who stuck by their side every step of the way. 
  • I hosted a meeting with members of law enforcement to discuss what actions we can take to save as many lives as possible and best treat individuals suffering from this illness.
  • At the RAIS Overdose Awareness candlelight vigil, I grieved with the friends and family members whose loved ones have lost to overdose. I will stand with victims, families and our grieving community again tonight at an overdose awareness vigil in Academy Park in downtown Albany. Even as they break my heart, these humbling experiences fill my voice in Washington. 

In 2018, more than 68,000 people in the United States died of an overdose—more than the number of vehicle and gun deaths combined. This health crisis has reached a point where overdose fatalities are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In fact, almost twice as many Americans are dying from this illness every year as we saw at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that sparked a national movement to combat it. 

Last year I was proud to advance four bills to combat the opioid epidemic through the House and see them signed in to law by President Trump. These bills expanded access to addiction treatment, took the first step toward allowing states to expand addiction treatment for individuals transitioning out of incarceration, created centers of excellence to train medical professionals in addiction treatment best practices, and helped set up safe drug disposal resources in communities across America. These were big wins that are already saving lives, but there’s much more we can do. 

  • This year, I wrote and introduced H.R. 2482: the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act to eliminate the outdated DEA waiver requirement that makes it unnecessarily difficult for qualified medical professionals to prescribe buprenorphine for substance use disorder treatment.  
    • For two decades, buprenorphine has been used as a safe, effective and life-saving medication-assisted treatment for individuals suffering from a substance use disorder
    • Removing this barrier will massively expand treatment access, making it easier for medical professionals to integrate substance use disorder treatment into primary care settings 
  • Individuals reentering society after incarceration are 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose in the first two weeks after release versus the general population. My bill  H.R 1329: the Medicaid Reentry Act gives states flexibility to restart benefits for Medicaid-eligible incarcerated individuals 30 days prior to release. This act will provide effective addiction treatment and lower the risk of overdose deaths post-release without expanding Medicaid eligibility in any way.

Thank you to everyone who shared your stories and your passion with me this week, and to all those who continue this fight to stop the opioid epidemic and help those suffering from substance use disorder. Your courage continues to be an inspiration and a source of hope for many. 

As always, thank you for reading.

Your friend,