MANATEE COUNTY – Congressman Vern Buchanan is introducing “The Opioid Emergency Response Act” this week, the act combines 7 bipartisan bills already introduced in Congress to help fight the opioid epidemic. The bill targets the epidemic through research and prevention, enforcement, and expanded access to treatment.

When it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic, Congressman Vern Buchanan says prevention has come a long way, but treatment has not.

“Many people come in and they have limited treatment,” Buchanan said. “Within a couple of weeks a month, they’re back out on the street trying to look for drugs. There’s more that we need to do in that space and that’s why the bill has the emphasis there.”

“Twenty-five million people approximately are struggling with addiction issues,” Centerstone CEO Melissa Larkin-Skinner said. “And I can assure you there is nowhere near that many slots for treatment, whether it’s beds or just appointments with psychiatrists or therapists.”

Buchanan is looking to change that with the “Opioid Emergency Response Act”.

“And it’s going to get the kind of resources that we need,” Buchanan said. “Everybody says that we’re not putting enough resources into it compared to the problem that it is. This is about $3.5 billion, I think it’s very substantial, we’ve done some funding in the past, but we need to go to this level to get it done.”

Centerstone CEO Melissa Larkin-Skinner says the bill does more than throw money at the problem; it also would enact good policy changes.

“Making sure that all treatment providers are using evidence- based treatment,” Larkin-Skinner said. “Because there are a lot of bad actors in the space, which we know intimately in Florida unfortunately.”

The bill would also allow new types of providers to join Medicare.

“Opening up Medicare so that other types of master’s level licensed providers can provide treatment,” Larkin- Skinner said. “Will allow us to be able to see more people and provide more treatment, so the people aren’t languishing on waiting lists or unable to get access to the treatment they need.”

Buchanan says he thinks the bill will get bipartisan support in Congress because it’s a problem that affects all Americans.

“This should be something that’s just doing the right thing,” Buchanan said. “We’re losing our children, we’ve got seniors that don’t have the capability to get additional dollars in funding because Medicare doesn’t give them in terms of mental health, the dollars they need to battle through some of this.”

These are all the bills included in the Opioid Emergency Response Act:

• The Alternatives to Opioids Prescribing Act, a bill sponsored by Buchanan to reduce opioid use among Medicare patients in hospital emergency rooms by incentivizing alternatives such as a high-dose combination of Tylenol and Advil, which studies have shown could achieve the same pain–reducing result as low-dose opioids.

• H.R. 4733, the Opioids and STOP Pain Initiative Act, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) that will provide additional resources to NIH to research pain, addiction, and non-opioid treatments for these medical conditions.

• An extension of the grants created in the 21st Century Cures Act that will provide significant opportunities for states to improve access to treatment, support people in recovery, and prevent overdoses.

• H.R. 3032, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-NY) that will expand seniors’ access to treatment by allowing new types of providers to join Medicare.

• S. 372, the STOP Act, introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that will help stem the flow of dangerous drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil by requiring more intensive screening at U.S. Postal Service facilities

• H.R. 2851, the SITSA Act, introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-NY) that will make it easier to outlaw deadly synthetic drugs and properly sentence convicted dealers.

• S. 788, the Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that will require the VA to study the link between prescription opioids and an alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans