President Trump signed sweeping legislation last week to tackle the nationwide opioid epidemic. As the country is ravaged by the staggering numbers of drug overdose deaths, the new bill is aimed at helping people overcome addiction and preventing addictions before they start.

In a deeply divided political climate, the addiction crisis is a rare issue that politicians and citizens across the US agree on. In a new poll by NPR, 48 percent of people said opioid addiction has gotten worse in their community in the past five years. Last year, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and opioids were responsible for about two-thirds of those deaths.

The new policies focus on improving access to treatment services by lifting some restrictions on Medicaid and Medicare coverage, as well as backing the creation of comprehensive opioid recovery centers.

The law attempts to tackle over-prescription of opioids and authorizes government research into non-addictive drugs that could be used instead for pain management. There are also measures that seek to curtail foreign shipments of illegal drugs, like Fentanyl, to the US from foreign countries.

Senator Rob Portman, a leading proponent of the legislation, said: “It will help in terms of both reducing some of this poison coming into our communities, but it also helps with regard to getting people into treatment.” Earlier this year, Congress approved an additional $6 billion over two years to fight the epidemic.

Nevertheless, some critics of the new law argue that much more money is needed to fully address the crisis.

Senator Maggie Hassan supported the bill but has emphasized that the legislation is just a first step: “Experts in the field tell us that is not nearly enough,” Hassan said. “We have to treat this as a starting point. We have a lot more work to do.”

According to the American Medical Association, the new law can help curtail the epidemic in these ways:

  • Expands existing programs and creates new programs to prevent substance use disorders and overdoses. This includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT); partially lifting a restriction that blocks states from spending federal Medicaid dollars on residential addiction treatment centers with more than 16 beds, by allowing payments for residential treatment services for up to 30 days and allow Medicare to cover MAT, including methadone, in certain settings, to treat substance use disorders
  • Increases funding for residential treatment programs for pregnant and postpartum women. The bill also requires the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop educational materials for clinicians to use with pregnant women regarding pain management during pregnancy. 
  • Authorizes an alternative payment model to increase access to comprehensive, evidence-based outpatient treatment for Medicare beneficiaries with opioid-use disorders. 
  • Authorizes CDC grants to improve prescription drug-monitoring programs, collect public health data, implement other evidence-based prevention strategies, encourage data sharing between states, and support other prevention and research activities related to controlled substances, including education and awareness efforts.
  • Expands the use of telehealth services for Medicaid and Medicare treatment.
  • Provides loan repayment for addiction-treatment professionals, including physicians, who agree to work in mental health professional shortage areas or counties that have been hardest hit by drug overdoses.
  • Helps stop the flow of illicit opioids into the country by mail, especially synthetic fentanyl.
  • Provides funding to encourage research and development of new non-addictive painkillers and non-opioid drugs and treatments.
  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to study and report to Congress on the impact of federal and state laws and regulations that limit the length, quantity or dosage of opioid prescriptions.