Infants and veterans, families and felons, doctors and druggists - all are factors in considerations by the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in the House of Representatives, which issued its nine-point agenda of legislation proposals this week.

Representative Tom MacArthur (Alexander Heller, Ocean County College)
Representative Tom MacArthur (Alexander Heller, Ocean County College)

In a fractious atmosphere under the Capitol dome, 90 members of Congress agreeing on anything is progress. Shore Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3), who co-chairs the panel with New Hampshire Democrat Annie Kuster, said that the sobering facts of the nation's drug siege meant checking politics at the door.

The bills are the culmination of months of hearings, internal discussions, and research to determine the most effective strategies in curbing addictions, and stemming the flow of narcotics that lead to them.

"We're trying to balance our desire to show compassion for people who are struggling with addiction, with enforcement and security," MacArthur said. "Some bills we've added to the agenda deal with prevention, some deal with treatment, some focus on families, on babies that are born addicted, veterans, law enforcement issues, border protection."

U.S. Capitol building
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Among the proposals:

  • Jessie's Law - to ensure that doctors know a consenting patient's history of addiction in order to determine an informed treatment regimen. Named after Jessie Grubb of Michigan, an opiate overdose victim in 2016.
  • Stem The Tide Of Overdose Prevalence From Opiate Drugs (STOP OD) act - authorizing up ot $75,000,000 in annual grants for two years to expand education, promote treatment and recovery, and foster understanding of addiciton as a disease; authorizing up to $150,000,000 annually for two years for access to Naloxone. The grant wold be partly funded by fees attached to certain drug convictions.
  • Addition Recovery Through Family Health Act - sponsored by MacArthur; would allow use of Health Savings or Flexible Spending accounts to pay for addiction treatment for relatives, whether dependents or not.
  • Road To Recovery Act - to eliminate exclusion of the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases from substance disorders, and help states expand inpatient treatment access to Medicaid enrollees.
  • International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response By Detecting Incoming Contraband With Technology (INTERDICT) Act - would set aside $15,000,000 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening and lab equipment, facilities and personnel to intercept fentanyl and other synthetic opiates before they enter the country.
  • Synthetic Drug Awareness Act - would require the U.S. Surgeon General to compile data on the public health effects of synthetic drug use among youths aged 12 to 18, for presentation to Congress.
  • Caring Recovery For Infants And Babies (CRIB) Act - would create centers within Medicaid to treat babies exposed to opiates in the womb; would establish a provider type for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) treatment centers, and emphasize counseling for mothers and families.
  • VA Prescription Data Accountability Act - would require the Veterans Health Administration to disclose information to state-controlled substance monitoring programs for anyone, vet or non-vet, who obtains prescriptions through the VA.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Pain Center Of Excellence - would establish a center to coordinate VA research, with the aim of reducing opiate use and increasing alternative treatments.
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    MacArthur said that bringing accountability to prescriptions issued to veterans ranks high among the panel's priorities.

    "One of the things we've discovered in our hearings, is that upwards of 75 percent of people addicted to heroin today, got addicted by being prescribed legal painkillers. People who get on opioids, even for a day, have a six-percent chance of being on them a year later. People on them for a month, have a 35 or 36 percent chance of being on them a year later."

    The initial issue of nine proposals portends additional ones yet to be finalized, MacArthur said, and represents a fraction of the measures being introduced by task force members.

    "We had to decide which ones are consistent with the priorities we set in the beginning of the year, and which we hope to bundle, to bring real focus and get them all to the floor at the same time, " he said.

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    MacArthur added that this approach mirrors the one that resulted in last year's Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. "That started with 18 bills that dealt with different aspects of the crisis. We focused on all 18 bills in the space of one week."

    MacArthur returns to 1160/1310 WOBM-AM on August 9 for "Ask The Congressman," 7 PM.

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