More funding and stronger measures are needed to fight opioid addiction, officials said recently at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
They called for greater access to addiction treatment and more stringent rules for painkiller prescribing.
Speakers at the hearing included governors, U.S. senators and law enforcement officials, according to The Wall Street Journal.
They said heroin and painkiller addiction is overwhelming health care workers, police and families across the nation.
In 2014, more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I have never seen anything like this, in terms of the epidemic we are facing,” New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte told the hearing. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, also from New Hampshire, called the problem a pandemic that affects “young and old, urban and rural, rich and poor, whites and minorities.”
The hearing was called in part to discuss the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which would expand addition and prevention treatment.
Kana Enomoto, Acting Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said many Americans are not receiving treatment for addiction. “We are facing a treatment gap of unacceptable proportions,” she said at the hearing. “As a nation, we will not stem the rising tide of this public health crisis if only two out of 10 people with an opioid use disorder get the treatment they need.”
She pointed to a lack of clinics in rural areas, a shortage of health care providers licensed to prescribe medication to treat opioid addiction, and low insurance reimbursement rates for treatment.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin called on legislators to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication to treat opioid addiction. These health care providers can prescribe opioids that are widely abused, he said, “but they can’t prescribe the treatment drugs that would allow people to get off this stuff and back to a normal life.”