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September 17, 2018

Senate Passes Legislation to Fight the Opioid Crisis Including Multiple King-Backed Provisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) voted for the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a bipartisan package which passed today by a vote of 98 to 2 and includes many provisions that will help Maine families and communities affected by the opioid crisis. The legislation was the result of months of bipartisan hearings and discussion on the opioid crisis. Senator King has previously supported several core provisions of the legislation, which will improve the federal government’s response to the opioid epidemic and lessen negative effects on children, families, and communities.


“This legislation isn’t perfect – but it’s an important step in the right direction on an issue that desperately needs progress,” said Senator King. “The severity of the opioid crisis isn’t a partisan issue; it’s about protecting our families, friends, neighbors, loved ones, and ensuring the safety of our young people. In Maine, the opioid epidemic takes away the lives of our community members at a rate of one person per day. This pain is being felt not only across our state, but also across our nation, and this bill will work to solve this problem through a multi-pronged legislative approach that increases support systems for victims, strengthens law enforcement efforts to crack down on those who smuggle and deal drugs, and empowers communities with the tools they need to help their citizens fight addiction. As I said, this is not perfect bill, and there are a number of provisions that I hope will be added during the conference committee, so we can build on the already strong gains made in this legislation.”


Earlier today on the Senate floor, Senator King highlighted one specific provision that he hopes will be included in the conference report: The Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act, which would permanently authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders. Under current law, these medical professionals are allowed to administer MAT until October 1, 2021; this new legislation would permanently authorize these professionals to administer MAT.


Senator King has made combating the opioid crisis one of his top priorities in Washington. In July, Senator King hosted a panel of medical professionals, employers and advocates to discuss the opioid crisis and reduce the stigma surrounding Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). That same month, he met with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett, and a number of medical professionals, law enforcement officers, advocates and local leaders at a Bangor roundtable discussing the opioid epidemic’s impact on rural Maine. In June, he highlighted the importance of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions to those struggling with substance use disorders – which is considered a pre-existing condition, so those who seek treatment could then be denied coverage or charged exorbitant rates based on their past substance use. He has repeatedly called on Congress and both the Obama and Trump administrations to fund laws and agencies that help address the drug epidemic.


Senator King has held several roundtables throughout Maine – from Portland to Bangor to Milo to Paris – and has spoken with health professionals, first responders, community members, and people in recovery to find ways to help people get better and make Maine communities safer and healthier. He has also joined a group of his Senate colleagues to write to the nation’s top health insurers urging them to do their part to combat the opioid epidemic. In an effort to hold the insurance industry accountable, the Senators asked the companies to both review their existing policies in light of the epidemic, and to take additional steps to make sure they are working actively to help curb addiction. In the FY 2018 Omnibus Federal Appropriations bill which passed in March, Senator King supported a provision which increased funding to fight the opioid and mental health crises by $3.3 billion, including an increase of $2.8 billion in treatment, prevention and research for programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. Also, in November 2017, Senator King led a letter to the Trump Administration urging additional funding for the opioid epidemic, and in October 2017 he joined a group of colleagues to introduce the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, legislation that would invest $45 billion for prevention, detection, surveillance and treatment of opioids.


Specifically, Senator King has backed the following core values of the legislation:

·         Reauthorization of the 21st Century Cures Act: Senator King was an outspoken advocate for funding originally provided by the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides critical opioid funding for states and tribes. The Opioid Crisis and Response Act of 2018 will reauthorize and improve grants to states and Indian tribes for prevention, response, and treatment to mitigate the opioid crisis, authorized in 21st Century Cures, for three more years.

·         Inclusion of CRIB Act provision: Senator King is a lead sponsor of the CRIB Act, which allows Medicaid to cover care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome in residential pediatric recovery centers.

·         Empower Communities to Combat Crisis: The bill reauthorizes the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as well as its associated grant programs, such as the Drug-Free Communities Program and the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Program. Senator King co-sponsored the Substance Abuse Prevention Act of 2018, which included the provision to reauthorize ONDCP. He also wrote a letter to the White House last year urging the administration to maintain funding for the office.

·         Reduction of Use and Supply: Senator King is a co-sponsor of the STOP Act, which will help stop illegal drugs at the border by requiring the postal service to obtain advance electronic data for international mail and provide that data to Customs and Border Protection. 

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