Reps. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, and Conor Lamb, D-Pa., along with original cosponsors Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., introduced a bipartisan bill -- the Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act -- that aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths and provide alternatives to incarceration by implementing pilot response programs in rural communities.
Since early 2020, 21 rural American communities that have borne the brunt of the opioid epidemic have received federal funding to develop targeted responses to gaps in prevention, treatment, and/or recovery services for individuals involved in the criminal justice system. The funds enable rural areas to implement evidence-based solutions and promising practices in a way that utilizes the unique assets of their communities.
The goal of the program is to reduce opioid overdose deaths in high-risk rural communities while supporting and promoting a shared understanding of the patterns and characteristics of local opioid use.
These pilots are happening with success currently, but they are not authorized under the statute, which this bill would accomplish. This proposal comes as several reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated issues with opioid use.
“The promising pilot programs included in this bill are a critical step forward as we work to curb the opioid epidemic, taking a targeted approach and ensuring rural Americans suffering from addiction have the resources they need to recover and get a second chance. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened opioid abuse, and it is important that we work to tackle this issue immediately,” says Feenstra.
Lamb says like many states, Pennsylvania has seen an increase in opioid deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While Congress has rightfully been focused on the pandemic, several reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated issues with opioid use. This smart, commonsense legislation will immediately help the communities that need it the most,” says Lamb.
“Rural America has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic for years, and Iowa is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse, and we need to be doing more to help those fighting addiction. The Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act is a step in the right direction to help rural communities combat this crisis. Helping Americans take on opioid abuse and addiction is a bipartisan issue, and I am proud to partner with my colleagues to find solutions to this problem,” says Miller-Meeks.
Spanberger adds during the pandemic, the nation witnessed a record number of overdose deaths — and in Virginia, experts project that overdose deaths increased by more than 40% from the previous year.
“Behind these statistics are personal, heartbreaking stories of parents who have lost their children to the agonizing loss of overdose,” she explains. “As we focus on our recovery from this pandemic, I’m keeping their pleas to help other families avoid this loss in the forefront of my mind. This bipartisan legislation makes sure the Department of Justice has the resources and support it needs to help build a pathway towards healing and recovery, especially throughout rural America, which has been particularly impacted by the substance abuse crisis,” she says.