February 02, 2016

Udall: President's Proposal to Dedicate $1.1 Billion to Address Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic is Important Step

Urges more action to help NM communities prevent and fight heroin and prescription drug abuse and ensure treatment is available to all who seek it

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall today welcomed President Obama's proposal to dedicate $1.1 billion to fight the heroin use and prescription opioid abuse epidemic in New Mexico and across the country. Udall has long fought to increase support to help communities treat and prevent both problems, particularly prescription opioid drug abuse, which is too often a gateway to heroin use.

In 2014, New Mexico had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Heroin use and prescription drug abuse are an epidemic nationwide, and I am heartbroken at the devastating impact they have had on New Mexico families and especially our rural communities," Udall said. "Drug abuse is more than an issue for law enforcement; addiction is a potentially deadly disease that tears apart families and infects entire communities. It can't be solved solely by throwing victims in jail, and that's why I have fought for resources to support prevention and drug abuse treatment as well as resources for law enforcement. We need to do everything we can to prevent drug abuse before it starts and ensure that effective treatment is available to anyone who wants help."

The president proposed the funding as part of his Fiscal Year 2017 budget blueprint, which he will present to Congress on Feb. 9. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Udall will help write Congress' funding bills and will have the opportunity to push for this proposal and other resources to help communities in New Mexico - and across the country - prevent and fight heroin and prescription drug abuse.

"In New Mexico, it's critical to focus on small and rural communities, which have been hit hard by drug abuse but where treatment programs are sometimes located far away and are difficult for people to stick with," Udall said. "I welcome President Obama's pledge of additional funding to support prevention strategies and expand effective treatment options and his emphasis on helping rural states and communities. This is a vitally important step, and I look forward to fighting for this funding as a member of the Appropriations Committee."

The president's initiative includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug and heroin abuse, including $920 million to support cooperative agreements with states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. States will receive funds based on the severity of the epidemic and on the strength of their strategy to respond to it and would be able to use the funding to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable. Additional funding would help provide treatment in areas across the country most in need of behavioral health providers.

The president's budget proposal also would increase funding to continue and build on efforts to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities. A portion of this funding is directed specifically to rural areas, where rates of overdose and opioid use are particularly high. The proposal would also support a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pilot project to enable nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment, where allowed by state law.

Udall's Increasing the Safety of Prescription Drug Use Act, which he reintroduced in March 2015, specifically calls for support for the HHS buprenorphine pilot project and expanded access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. The bill also requires the Food and Drug Administration to consider whether naloxone should be available behind the counter instead of by prescription only.

Additionally, Udall's bill calls for strengthening monitoring techniques for existing high-risk prescriptions - such as by expanding the reach of a prescription drug database across states - and implementing new measures to prevent prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands. Increased patient assessment would help refer potentially addicted patients to treatment. The bill would also foster partnerships between HHS and state and local governments to increase ongoing opportunities for proper medication disposal. New Mexico has piloted many of the initiatives in the bill, which could be expanded nationally to help more people receive the help they need.