COMMENTARY

A simple solution to battling frontlines of opioid crisis

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Last year, President Trump responded to the growing opioid addiction crisis by declaring a national public health emergency—and for good reason.  On average, 116 Americans die every single day as a result of an opioid drug overdose.  And in my home state of Kentucky, we suffer from the third highest opioid overdose mortality rate in the nation. 


It is an epidemic that touches nearly every one of our lives – across all demographics, regions, and states. 


A recent study by the Federal Reserve reports that one in five Americans personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids.  And beginning in 2013, our nation experienced a significant increase in overdose deaths involving prescription and synthetic opioids.


One of these synthetic opioids, fentanyl, is 50 times more potent than heroin and is 100 times more potent than morphine.  These aren’t opioids usually prescribed for your broken bone or wisdom tooth removal; they are poisonous substances illicitly manufactured and imported into our communities for the express purpose of fueling a deadly illness of addiction.


These are our children, siblings, neighbors and friends.  And something must be done.


In 2016, I was proud to support and help pass two crucial bills – the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act – both of which authorized record levels of funding to states on the front lines of this crisis.


More recently, Congress appropriated over $7 billion to support treatment initiatives, improve law enforcement efforts and stop the flow of illegal drugs into our country.


But as the opioid crisis continues to grow and change, our response efforts must grow and change as well. 


To achieve long-term progress in the fight against opioid addiction, Congress can no longer simply focus on prevention, enforcement, and treatment.  We must also begin to implement policies that focus on long-term recovery.


In my district in central Kentucky, we are blessed to have a number of faith-based and not-for-profit organizations dedicated to providing transitional housing and recovery programs for people who have struggled with opioids and other substance abuse disorders. These organizations, including the Hope Center, St. James Place, Shepherd’s House, Chrysalis House and Revive Life House, offer successful models for helping individuals recover from addiction and return to productive, meaningful lives.


What I have learned from these organizations is that far too often, people completing an in-patient rehabilitation program or a period of incarceration find themselves with limited long-term housing options.  The tragic result is that many relapse by falling back into the same living arrangements that originally contributed to their substance abuse, often with people who continue to suffer from active addiction, and that are not otherwise conducive to sober living.

 

Stable, transitional housing is an evidence-based approach that has helped thousands of Americans maintain sobriety, gain valuable skills and job training, obtain employment and eventually transition back into society to lead independent lives.

 

For example, Benji from Wilmore, Kentucky found his way to Revive Life House, where he got a second chance to get his life back on track and reunite with his family.  After years of drug abuse, addiction not only consumed Benji’s life, it left him totally hopeless.  But Revive Life House gave Benji a new start and allowed him to get back to his roots of service, devotion and appreciation for life.  Now as a full-time employee at Revive, Benji credits the stability of housing in his successful recovery and gives back to his community by serving others going through the same struggle he overcame.


As a member of the House Financial Services Committee with jurisdiction over federal housing programs, I believe Congress has a unique opportunity to support policies that would expand housing options for individuals in the recovery process.


I am grateful to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson for recently visiting several transitional housing organizations in my district and also recognizing this unique opportunity. After his visit, Secretary Carson reiterated to me the need for Congress to give HUD greater flexibility to innovate with transitional housing. 

 

As a result, I introduced the Transitional Housing for Recovery in Viable Environments (THRIVE) Act, which would make programs like the one offered at Revive Life House more accessible to those in need.  Specifically, it would allocate a limited number of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers to housing non-profits that provide drug-free rooms or apartments, addiction recovery counseling, job training and related support to individuals transitioning out of rehab and back into the workforce.


Recipients of these vouchers will be required to report metrics of success to HUD.  These include the extent to which the program has helped beneficiaries maintain sobriety, gain job skills and employment, and, ultimately, move out of government subsidized housing into permanent, stable, non-subsidized housing.  Using Housing Choice Vouchers to support evidence-based transitional housing programs would give those suffering from addiction a chance at long-term success.


Just last week, my colleagues and I passed H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which is the most significant Congressional action against a single drug crisis in history and advances prevention, treatment, and recovery initiatives. I was proud that this legislation included the THRIVE Act. My colleagues and I will continue to work in our respective committees to advance meaningful legislation to support those on the front lines of this epidemic.


Our friends, families and neighbors are relying on us to provide the solution.  And House Republicans are providing that solution by giving people struggling with addiction long-term recovery and hope.

 

Andy Barr is a U.S. Representative for Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District.

 

Kentucky Today’s Perspectives section provides a public forum for our readers to express their views on issues of importance. The opinions expressed are those of the writer and should not be construed as an official position taken by this newspaper. We encourage you to join in the conversation by sending your essays to editor@kentuckytoday.com. We reserve the right to reject submissions deemed inappropriate.

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