Hoeven Working to support Comprehensive Efforts to Prevent & Treat Opioid Addiction

Senator Meets with Fargo Blue Ribbon Commission, Outlines Opioid Funding in Cures Act, Legislation to Close Synthetic Drug Loophole

FARGO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today hosted a roundtable with the Fargo metro area’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Addiction to outline his work to combat the growing issue of opioid abuse in North Dakota. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified the state as one of 14 that experienced a statistically significant increase in drug overdose deaths between 2013 and 2014, from 20 to 43, respectively, and the Fargo region has experienced 20 known overdose deaths this year alone. Hoeven heard from the commission on their work to develop a comprehensive response to the increase in opiate overdoses and deaths in the region and highlighted federal opportunities to advance local efforts to improve and expand prevention and treatment services, including:

• Opioid prevention and treatment funding included in the 21st Century Cures Act
• Hoeven’s Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act of 2016
• Expanded prevention and education efforts in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act

“The influx of opioids into our communities has brought tremendous pain and tragedy for families in our state,” Hoeven said. “We are working to support a comprehensive approach, where our law enforcement, educators and health care providers, including those who attend to mental health and substance abuse, have the tools they need to prevent and treat addiction. Through measures such as the opioid funding in the Cures Act and my Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act, we can combat opioid abuse and save lives.”

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here.

21st Century Cures Act

The Cures Act, which Congress passed earlier this month, provides $1 billion over two years to supplement states’ efforts to combat opioid addiction. The funding will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). The agency issued the Funding Opportunity Announcement for the program yesterday, following inquiries by Hoeven’s staff. The program details can be found here.

The funds are provided to states using a formula based on the number of people who abuse or are dependent on opioids with unmet treatment needs and the number of drug poisoning deaths. North Dakota is allocated $2 million in first-year funds. The eligible applicant for the state is the Behavioral Health Division at the North Dakota Department of Human Services, and applications are due by February 17, 2017. Among other things, the funds can be used to:
• Identify effective, comprehensive strategies to prevent opioid abuse
• Improve prescription drug monitoring programs
• Implement evidence-based prevention activities
• Provide training for health care practitioners
• Expand access to health care services, such as substance abuse treatment programs
• Support innovative telehealth in rural and underserved areas
• Address the opioid abuse crisis through other public health-related activities

At the same time, Hoeven has been in contact with the Region VIII Opioid Consultation Team at SAMHSA. This team provides consultation and technical assistance on efforts related to opioid addiction in a six-state region, which includes North Dakota, and helps to identify and coordinate federal, state and local resources to support these efforts. Hoeven is working to facilitate collaboration between the team and the local commission, and the chair of the team, SAMHSA Regional Administrator Dr. Charles Smith, has welcomed the opportunity to work with and assist the commission. Hoeven encouraged the commission members to work with the state and the consultation team in developing an application for the Cures Act funding.

In addition, the Cures Act reauthorizes the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, while also allowing states greater flexibility in administering the programs to meet local needs. North Dakota has received nearly $7 million from these programs since Fiscal Year 2015.

Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act of 2016

This legislation, which Hoeven authored and introduced with Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), closes a loophole in current law that enables companies to circumvent the law and sell synthetic variations of drugs, like the powerful drug fentanyl, by labeling the products as “not for human consumption.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that fentanyl, which is a controlled substance used as a painkiller, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Synthetic variants of fentanyl have been identified as the cause of many of the recent overdose deaths in the Fargo area. Hoeven said his legislation is one concrete step that can be taken to help cut off the influx of dangerous substances into the region.

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act

Hoeven also supported the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in July. The bipartisan legislation will help combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing communities across the nation by expanding prevention efforts, supporting law enforcement, improving treatment of overdoses and enhancing access to treatment for drug addiction.