March 31, 2018

Spending bill aids WV in fight against opioids | Huntington Herald Dispatch

Bipartisanship isn't always easy, but I'm pleased that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill provides West Virginia with important funding to fight the opioid epidemic, invest in high-speed internet and broadband access throughout our state, improve infrastructure and move West Virginia forward.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have fought for these investments in our West Virginia communities. I met with community leaders, local elected officials and other experts to make sure that we were advocating for the funding that would be most beneficial for our state. From there, I sent a letter to President Trump highlighting West Virginia's funding needs and I worked with his administration and my colleagues to make sure these provisions were included. Many of these West Virginia priorities were included in the funding bill for fiscal year 2018 including significant funding to combat the opioid epidemic.

In many of our West Virginia communities, those suffering from substance use disorder face significant challenges and lack access to substance use disorder treatment. Huntington is no exception. Cabell County reported 944 overdoses and 70 overdose deaths in 2015. That is up from 272 overdoses in the county in 2014. In August 2016, Huntington saw 28 overdoses in one day with two overdose deaths.

Too many of us know friends or family members who have recognized that they need help, but have been turned away because there simply weren't enough facilities, beds or mental health providers in their community. This should never happen in the greatest country on Earth. We must invest in additional treatment facilities in West Virginia to ensure those struggling with substance use disorder are given the chance to recover and live full, happy lives.

This funding bill includes $3.3 billion in new funding to address the opioid crisis and improve access to mental health care. From this funding, $1 billion of it will go directly to the states through the State Opioid Response Grant program, which includes a 15 percent set-aside for states with high mortality rates like West Virginia that I fought to ensure was included in the bill. This includes a total of $2.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve access to treatment, prevention and research for programs.

This bill also includes Jessie's Law, which I have fought for for more than two years, since the tragic loss of Jessica Grubb. This will push HHS to develop standards for displaying information about a patient's past opioid addiction when the patient provides that information. This will help us prevent unnecessary opioid overdose deaths by ensuring that medical professionals have access to the information that they need to provide quality care.

This funding to fight the opioid epidemic is great news but unless West Virginia receives funding to match the need, it won't do much to help us. Last year, I introduced a bill that would require HHS and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to weigh mortality rate and lack of access to services when allocating funding. This would help ensure that funding will go to the places that need it most like West Virginia. Our state is on the front lines and in the coming weeks, I will be working to make sure that we get our fair share.

But make no mistake, this spending bill does not come without consequences. I remain very concerned about our country's addiction to spending and our ever increasing debt, but I will not hold our military and funding for important priorities hostage. I have always said that our values should match our priorities, and I will continue to fight for a responsible budget that puts West Virginia first.