Governors emphasized the need for additional federal funding and flexibility in the fight against the opioid crisis during the sixth hearing held by the Senate health committee this Congress.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, each noted in their testimony Thursday the importance of funding to their states.
“Congress is considering in the appropriations process providing additional funding as well,” Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander said. Congress recently passed a bill directing $6 billion to address the opioid crisis as a part of a recent two-year budget deal.
“I urge you and your fellow lawmakers to make increased funding for the opioid crisis a top priority as you negotiate the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill in the coming weeks,” Hogan said in prepared remarks, noting that more federal support is needed to make naloxone available to first responders and law enforcement.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, a former governor, said the $6 billion is simply not enough.
She and fellow New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen previously floated the idea of providing $25 billion.
“While the $6 billion that we secured in the bipartisan budget is a start, we know that we ultimately do need far more funding,” Hassan said. She asked the witnesses what they would do with additional funds.
“In terms of additional resources, I think they would be key in making sure we have affordable generic overdose drugs for all of our first responders,” Brown said.
Brown also said extra funding would ensure that Oregonians have access to compressive behavior health treatment and effective substance and alcohol abuse treatment.
“Sen. Hassan, I agree with you that we need more federal funding — not to say that $6 billion isn’t a lot of money. It is to the taxpayers. But it’s a drop in the bucket,” said Hogan, adding that Maryland has already spent about $500 million on these efforts with most of it going to treatment.
Hassan said the cost of the epidemic to New Hampshire was $2 billion in 2015.
Flexibility in funding
Hogan told reporters after the hearing that governors need more flexibility in timing and how to use the funding.
“A couple of the governors were talking about at the national governors’ conference about different problems in different states,” he said. For example, fentanyl is a bigger problem in some states than others.
“We all desperately need the help,” but a one-size-fits-all approach with rigid regulations “might not work,” the Maryland governor added.
Hogan said a block grant system, an idea recommended by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis and suggested by many other governors, would be the ideal solution.
“That would be perfect, but [I’m not] sure we’re going to get that,” Hogan said. He said he is hopeful for a broader focus with fewer strings attached.
“We’re putting a ton of state resources into it, but the federal government is just not investing enough,” he added.
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