Rep. Joyce urges congressional action on bill to fight rise in opioid-related deaths

Rep. Dave Joyce

U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) this week requested action by the U.S. House of Representatives on his bipartisan proposal to reauthorize a comprehensive opioid abuse grant program that could help combat the recent rise in opioid-related deaths nationwide.

“The opioid crisis has been breaking apart families and threatening the safety of Ohio communities with opioid-related overdose deaths having more than quadrupled since 1999,” Rep. Joyce told Health Crisis Alert in an emailed statement. “Sadly, the Buckeye State is one of the top five states with the highest rates of fatal opioid-related overdoses.”

The congressman said he was encouraged that opioid-related overdose deaths dropped in Ohio from 4,293 in 2017 to 3,237 in 2018. But he noted that progress is quickly being erased amid the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the mental health and economic security of many Americans – underscoring the need for congressional action.

Rep. Joyce urged U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to bring to the floor for a vote the Comprehensive Opioid Program Extension (COPE) Act of 2019, H.R. 1528, which he sponsored in March 2019 with lead cosponsor U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) to reauthorize the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opioid abuse grant program through fiscal year 2024.

According to preliminary 2019 overdose death data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 states saw fatal drug overdoses increase or remain stable from 2018 data, while an analysis released by the White House found that overdose deaths this year increased 11.4 percent from January to April compared with the same period in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for those struggling with a substance use disorder, as resources for recovering individuals have become harder to access and as community health centers, which provide essential treatment and recovery services, have seen revenues drop, Rep. Joyce said. Furthermore, current conditions have made it harder for those battling opioid addiction to access opioid antagonists like buprenorphine and naloxone, he added.

“As a former prosecutor and as the vice chair of the House Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, I know that in order to successfully battle the opioid crisis, we need an all-of-the-above approach that includes prevention and education efforts, promotes treatment, cracks down on illegal distribution, and enhances resources for first responders and law enforcement,” Rep. Joyce said.

If enacted, the legislation would accomplish such goals by increasing funding for DOJ’s comprehensive opioid abuse grant program by $70 million per year from 2020 through 2024, for a total annual amount of $400 million.

Those grants help local communities battle the opioid epidemic by:

  • providing training and resources for first responders on opioid overdose reversal drugs and devices;
  • enhancing collaboration between state criminal justice agencies and substance abuse agencies;
  • strengthening law enforcement efforts to combat the illegal distribution of opioids;
  • and developing or expanding programs to prevent youth opioid abuse, drug take-back initiatives, or for treatment alternatives to incarceration.

“By attacking this crisis from several different angles, the COPE Act ensures we can put a stop to what’s driving the majority of opioid-related deaths: illicit fentanyl,” the congressman said.

In 2010, approximately 14 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, compared with the nearly 60 percent of opioid overdose deaths that involved fentanyl in 2017. Additionally, more than half of the 70,980 fatal drug overdoses that occurred last year involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

“The COPE Act will not only further our education, prevention and treatment efforts, but also help law enforcement put a stop to the trafficking of deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” Rep. Joyce said.