Congress Weighs Effectiveness of Federally Sponsored State Programs to Address Drug Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Since his time in the Kentucky General Assembly, Congressman Brett Guthrie says he’s been consumed by addressing the country’s opioid crisis. His own view on what it means to be drug dependent has shifted.

“One of the things I had to change my mind on a little bit is that everybody who commits a crime is a criminal even if they are committing the crime to support their habit. I learned if you take somebody’s habit away from them, then they cease being a criminal so they are not a danger to people. It’s better to get them into rehabilitation, get them into job training than to send them off to prison,” he said.

With an estimated 130 people dying each day from an opioid overdose, the Centers for Disease Control continues to describe the issue as an epidemic.

Guthrie oversaw a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on state responses to the public health crisis to examine if initiatives like connecting people to treatment, upping the availability of life-saving medication like Naloxone and other reforms are working.

“Have any of you used federal dollars to address neonatal absence syndrome?,” he asked a panel of experts.

“Our babies are being born healthier. Their birth outcomes are better so we are really optimistic that with continued efforts there we can make more progress,” said West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health Commissioner Christina Mullins.

In Kentucky, 1,333 people died from drug overdoses in 2018. That’s down nearly 15% from the year prior.

“Our largest two strategies to address rural access has been first and foremost moving as much care into office based outpatient treatment programs as possible. The second, we’ve been heavily investing in project ECHO, which has leveraged our ability to try to train providers to give them the support they need to take on these patients,” said Kody Kinsley, a Deputy Secretary at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Among the legislation Guthrie says is changing the trajectory of the crisis in Kentucky is the 21st Century Cures Act signed into law in 2016.

It authorized more than 6 billion dollars for the National Institutes of Health.

Critics of the law say the legislation was watered down to appease corporate interests.