President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a sweeping package of bills aimed at curbing opioid deaths and expanding treatment for drug users.
The legislation that passed Congress earlier this month provides for a grant for "comprehensive recovery centers" to provide job training and housing along with drug treatment; a directive to the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for the deadly fentanyl additive; changes to coverage for opioid treatment under Medicare and Medicaid; and fewer restrictions on prescribing drugs that wean addicted individuals off opioids.
“Together, we are going to end the scourge of drug and opioid addiction in America. We are going to end it, or we are going to at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem,” Trump said in a White House signing ceremony.
The event came a year after Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. He pledged more than $6 billion to fund efforts to address the problem in communities across the country.
About 70,000 people die each year from opioid use, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The legislation was celebrated as a bipartisan achievement, easily passing the GOP-controlled House and Senate in early October, even as a grueling confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was underway.
“The opioid crisis is urgent, deadly and escalating, and it requires an all-hands-on-deck and all-of-the-above approach to support education and prevention, treatment, and law enforcement,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Schumer, who was involved in the final negotiations of the bill, said the bill ensures long-term opioid program funding “while making critical policy changes to help providers, first responders, law enforcement, communities and families.”
In addition, advocates noted the legislation as a historic investment in fighting the epidemic.
Jessica Hulsey Nickel, founder and president of Addiction Policy Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement she was “thrilled” Trump signed the bill into law.
“This is a disease that has touched almost every American, and we are thankful that the President has signed this historic legislation into law,” she said.
Kristie Golden, an opioid expert at Stony Brook University Hospital, said “all efforts to combat the opioid epidemic are worthwhile.”
But she stressed the importance of aligning the policies of federal, state and local governments.
“The coordination of federal state and local governments is key,” Golden said. “You can’t invest in one area and not in another and think [it will] miraculously solve the problem.”
Attending the White House event were members of community groups and families affected by addiction, and leaders of corporations including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Walmart and Rite Aid.