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House Subcommittee Hearing Considers Opioid Workforce Act, Substance Use Disorders

March 6, 2020

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Allyson Perleoni, Senior Legislative Analyst

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on March 3 examining a slate of pending legislation focused on addressing the challenges health providers face in providing substance use disorders treatment.

Lawmakers heard testimony from two panels during the hearing, “Combatting an Epidemic: Legislation to Help Patients with Substance Abuse Disorders,” which focused on 14 bills, all of which addressed some aspect of substance use disorders. Among the bills considered were the AAMC-supported Opioid Workforce Act (H.R. 3414) and the Solutions Not Stigmas Act (H.R. 5631).

Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) opened the hearing by emphasizing that in 2018, 67,000 Americans died of a drug overdose. She noted that many of the bills under consideration included those that “create a brand-new health care workforce trained to recognize substance use disorder and prescribe the medication-assisted treatment that we know saves lives.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-Texas) agreed, pointing out the work that the committee has previously accomplished but acknowledging that there is still work to do going forward.

The first panel featured federal agency health officials, including Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health. Giroir highlighted workforce programs as being “critical to our approach for ensuring that the structure and capacity of our health care systems are responsive to the evolving drug overdose epidemic.”

Throughout both panels, several members voiced their support of H.R. 3414, including Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), a lead sponsor of the legislation, who said  it “doesn't matter how many beds we have in the hospitals if we don't the doctors and the professionals to treat those patients, and so that's why I introduce[d]…the Opioid Workforce Act providing the thousand Medicare-funded residency slots to hospitals.”

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) voiced support of the bill, indicating that he co-sponsored the legislation. 

“Many communities across the country are facing shortages of these kinds of professionals [and] lack access to the services they need as a result. This is especially true as you know when it comes to mental health and substance use disorder providers,” said Sarbanes.

Health care and advocacy leaders on the second panel told lawmakers it was critical to find solutions for workforce shortages.

Shawn A. Ryan, MD, MBA, chair of the legislative advocacy committee at the American Society of Addiction Medicine, emphasized the lack of board-certified specialists who are able to treat substance use disorders. He pointed out that these specialists are broadly trained in all the substance use disorders and that their skills are not limited to just opioid treatment. Instead, they have “to understand how to address … every other substance” that “becomes the topic of most importance of that time.”

Chairwoman Eshoo recognized that combating the opioid epidemic is “a huge challenge,” but she said that “the answers that you’ve given will help us shape legislation that’s really going to make a difference for people in our country.”

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