POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Congress struggles to answer the opioid crisis

Oct 25, 2023, 7:00 AM

Naloxone vials, utah...

Riley Drage, a Utah Naloxone trainer, holds a naloxone vial prior to training for opioid overdose in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The opioid epidemic is a crisis in Utah and across the country.

It’s one of the few issues with bipartisan support. But, the U.S. isn’t making a lot of progress. Carmen Paun from Politico joined KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources to talk about why.

Five years ago, Republicans and Democrats got together to pass the SUPPORT Act. Paun said it provided over $20 billion for treatment, recovery, prevention and law enforcement.

It was meant to be a landmark bill that would make big strides in stopping the opioid crisis. Except it hasn’t really been that. According to the CDC, over 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2021 involved an opioid. 

Now the law is up for legal renewal, which happens every five years and can include bringing new measures.

Currently, programs have not been renewed by Congress. Paun said she thinks it’s because lawmakers aren’t sure what policies to include to make a change.

“That’s mainly because [of] fentanyl,” Paun said. ” It’s widely available, it can be easily disguised into pills that look like prescription pills.”

Ideas to help the opioid crisis

There are some ideas floating around on how to help with the crisis. Paun said one thing that could help is destigmatizing the issue so people don’t feel too ashamed to seek support and treatment. 

Another idea was discussed in the house. Paun said it was giving people who are incarcerated in county jails access to treatment and medication. 

“There were studies showing that when they get out of jail in those first 60 days is when their risk for an overdose is the highest because most likely they’ll go out and seek the drug again,” Paun said.

A controversial idea that is in the discussion, she said, is expanding access to methadone. Methadone is an FDA-approved medication that reduces opioid cravings and withdrawals

The drug is seen as the lesser evil compared to opioids.

“But there are also doctors who are licensed methadone prescribers, that are actually saying this might actually make the overdose crisis even worse,” Paun said. “Because then people maybe would not die from a fentanyl overdose, but they would die from a methadone overdose.”

Another common solution talked about on Capitol Hill is naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses. It’s now available over the counter at pharmacies. 

Paun said there have also been efforts to prevent fentanyl from getting into the U.S.

It’s not confirmed, but Paun said it’s expected Congress will discuss the reauthorization of the SUPPORT Act next month. 

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Congress struggles to answer the opioid crisis