Let's increase Medicaid's ability to cover inpatient treatment for substance abuse

shapiro-fitzpatrick
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (left) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.

More than 4,600 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in 2016 - a 37 percent increase from the previous year. In Bucks County, that increase was closer to 50 percent. Today, overdoses are the number one accidental killer in Pennsylvania.

This epidemic, driven by opioids - including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl - is the biggest public health crisis and biggest public safety challenge facing our commonwealth.

While the statistics are staggering, this crisis is about more than numbers. It's about real people and families in our communities dealing with tragic stories of pain and loss. Neighbors like Dawn Futrell, from Altoona, who lost her son to heroin after he became addicted to prescribed opioids following a job site injury. Or Pamela Garozzo from Bucks County, whose son, Carlos, battled addiction before dying from an overdose of fentanyl-laced opioids days before Christmas.

Protecting the public is our top priority, and we stand with our men and women in uniform who go after the dealers peddling this poison in our communities. In the last six months, the Attorney General's Office has arrested an average of three dealers a day and nearly doubled the number of arrests for diverting legal pharmaceutical drugs for illicit purposes from the previous year. Additionally, Pennsylvania is a leader in a national, bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general investigating opioid manufacturers' marketing and sales practices.

But we can't simply arrest our way out of this crisis - access to treatment is critical. Unfortunately, Pennsylvanians seeking treatment face significant challenges to accessing that care.

That's why we're standing together to support the Road to Recovery Act (H.R. 2938) - bipartisan legislation that removes a key barrier to treatment and makes it easier for Pennsylvanians struggling with addiction to get the help they need. This bill, introduced last month by Congressman Fitzpatrick, is based on input from Pennsylvanians on the front lines of this crisis, including treatment providers, law enforcement leaders, and local advocates.

The act removes the law barring Medicaid coverage of inpatient treatment in facilities with more than 16 beds for individuals between the ages of 21 to 64 with substance use disorder.

The restrictions were enacted in 1965 to further deinstitutionalization, a movement resulting from public awareness of facilities that were plagued by gross overcrowding, poor living conditions, ineffective results, and state budget cuts. Congress passed the restrictions in recognition of the positive outcomes of less isolated community-based providers and pharmacotherapy.

While well-intentioned, it's time to revisit those rules in light of today's challenges. People on the front lines of the opioid crisis - doctors and EMTs, treatment providers and police - have seen how a lack of access to inpatient treatment has hurt their fight against this epidemic.

As Medicaid funding becomes more restricted, states are being handcuffed in their ability to address this epidemic and failing to help the thousands of people who need inpatient treatment, particularly those with limited means.

Not everyone who suffers from addiction will need inpatient treatment, but many will. Each person's path to recovery is unique.

It's critical that when those struggling with addiction are ready to seek help they have access to a safe and supportive environment with health professionals prepared to guide them on their road to recovery. That's why this bill has garnered broad support across the medical and addiction treatment communities, law enforcement, and members of both parties in Congress.

As public officials committed to confronting the opioids crisis and keeping Pennsylvanians safe, we urge lawmakers of both parties to act quickly to make this bill law. When it comes to the opioid epidemic, we can't let politics stand in the way of solutions. The stakes are simply too high.

Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) represents the Eighth Congressional District, including all of Bucks County and portions of Montgomery County. @RepBrianFitz

Josh Shapiro (D.) serves as attorney general of Pennsylvania. @PAAttorneyGen