MacArthur-Headed Bipartisan Heroin Task Force Announces Agenda

Jul 12, 2017

Congressman Tom MacArthur is only in his second term in the House of Representatives, so has none of the typical prerequisites for power, things like a committee or at least subcommittee chairmanship. But he has used informal groups to make a name for himself.

If you think he retreated to a back bench after resigning back in May as co-chairman of the group of GOP moderates called the Tuesday Group, think again. He emerged as an unlikely Republican leader when he forged his “MacArthur Amendment,” the critical piece of legislation that managed to push the GOP’s American Health Care Act, its effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, through the House.

And he isn’t stopping. He’s a co-chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, a position that could definitely generate publicity and praise.

The BHTF has over 85 members from both sides of the aisle. It is, as MacArthur said, “one of the most rigorously bipartisan organizations in Congress.” And why wouldn’t it be? The opioid epidemic is sweeping across just about every state in the nation, be it red or blue.

Last Tuesday the task force, headed by MacArthur, who serves the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District, which includes the western half of Stafford Township and all of Barnegat Township; co-chairwoman Annie Kuster (D-N.H.); and vice-chairs Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) released its nine-bill legislative agenda for the 115th Congress.

“The opioid crisis has touched so many families and communities across the United States,” said MacArthur at a press conference announcing the agenda. “It has always been my belief that we must find a balance between showing compassion for those suffering with substance abuse, while stopping the flow of drugs into our communities and those who profit from other people’s misery. I believe our legislative agenda represents this balance, and I’m grateful members from both sides of the aisle could come together on this critical issue. The agenda released today is a crucial step in our fight against drug abuse.”

“The opioid addiction epidemic is a crisis that transcends politics,” said Kuster. “We know that tackling substance use requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account law enforcement, prevention treatment and recovery. The legislative agenda we released today represents the commonsense approach that the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force is committed to pursuing. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues on the task force to announce this agenda and look forward to working across the aisle to make progress in addressing the opioid epidemic.”

One of the bills, H.R. 1554, nicknamed “Jessie’s Law,” would help make sure doctors have access to a consenting patient’s prior history of addiction in order to make fully informed care and treatment decisions. Jessie’s Law is named after Jessica Grubb, a 30-year-old from West Virginia. She was a few months clean when she got an infection in her hip and needed surgery in a Michigan hospital. When she was released, she was prescribed oxycodone, an opioid pain killer, by the discharging physician.

Police believe she crushed the pills, mixed them with liquid and injected them into an IV port, causing a fatal overdose. Her family wondered why she was sent home with an oxycodone prescription when they had repeatedly told the hospital staff she was a recovering heroin addict.

H.R. 664, the “Stop OD” Act, would authorize up to $75 million annually in grants for two years to expand educational efforts to prevent opiate abuse. It would also authorize no more than $150 million annually for two years in grants to provide access to Naloxone, training in the administration of the drug, and testing for Fentanyl. The grants would be paid for in part by a fee of $80, the same cost as one unit of Naloxone, attached to conviction for drug offenses such as manufacture, distribution and possession with the intent to distribute.

The “Stop OD” Act tries to kill, or at least woumd, two birds with one stone. After two years the monies collected from the fee would be used to reduce the federal debt.

A bill sponsored by MacArthur would allow persons to use funds in Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts to pay for addiction treatment for any relative, even if they aren’t a dependent. Currently money from such tax-advantage accounts can be used only to treat a spouse, dependent or dependent relative.

A bill introduced by Fitzpatrick would help states expand access to inpatient treatment for Medicaid enrollees by eliminating the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion for substance use disorder.

Another bill would authorize $15 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to fund new screening devices, laboratory equipment, personnel and scientific support to help detect and intercept Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Synthetic opioids are also addressed in a sixth bill, one that would require the U.S. surgeon general to submit a report to Congress on the public health effects on the rise in synthetic drug use among young people ages 12 to 18.

If opioids destroy the lives of teens and adults, imagine what they do to newborns! A bill in the package would establish residential pediatric care centers within Medicaid to treat babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome caused by exposure to opioids during pregnancy.

The final two bills deal with the Veterans Health Administration. The first would clarify current law to stipulate that the VHA is required to disclose information to state-controlled substance monitoring programs for anyone – veteran or non-veteran – who is prescribed opioid medications through VHA. The second would establish a new Center of Excellence for research into pain. It would provide coordination across VHA’s existing research programs on reducing the use of opioids and improving alternative treatments to pain. The Center of Excellence would also conduct new research, especially in prescriber education regarding pain and substance use.

— Rick Mellerup

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