Esty, Kuster, MacArthur Introduce Bill to Aid States Struggling with Opioid Crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Today, Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5), a member of the bipartisan Opioid Task Force in the House, introduced legislation aimed at providing funding to medical examiners and forensic labs that are struggling to keep up with the mounting death toll resulting from the opioid epidemic currently plaguing communities across the country. Esty’s bill is the House companions to Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) bill in the Senate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year.
The Combating the Opioid Epidemic Through Forensic Drug Testing Act, which she introduced with Rep. Annie McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), would authorize funding through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to be used for police forensic labs and medical examiner offices to pay for staff, equipment and overtime. The legislation also allows police departments to use these grants for additional field testing equipment. Esty, along with several leading health experts from UConn Health, held a press conference this morning to introduce the bill.
“In my home state of Connecticut, more than 1,000 overdose-related deaths were reported in 2017 alone. This resulted in the temporary suspension of the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s full accreditation, simply because the office lacked sufficient staff or resources to perform the increased volume of autopsies due to the opioid and heroin crisis. This is unacceptable and underscores the intense pressure our medical examiners are under to fulfill their duties,” said Esty. “This bill would bring much-needed assistance to many of our communities that have been hit hard by opioid addiction. We need to make sure appropriate attention and resources are given to fighting this epidemic.”
“Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are having a deadly impact throughout New Hampshire and the country,” said Kuster, the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force. “Law enforcement and medical examiners face the formidable job of identifying the substances involved in a lethal overdose and our legislation will support efforts undertaken by our communities to effectively respond to the spread and impact of synthetic opioids. The opioid epidemic isn’t a partisan issue and I’m encouraged by the bipartisan effort to come together behind common-sense proposals that will help to address this public health emergency.”
“This bipartisan legislation will provide necessary resources to county medical examiners and forensic labs here in South Jersey. As of early June 2018, there have been more that 1200 suspected opioid overdose deaths in New Jersey, more than 140 of which have occurred in Burlington and Ocean Counties. Backlogs in medical examiners offices and forensic labs prevent families from putting their loved ones to rest and stalls the collection of important scientist data. This is unacceptable, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that South Jersey has resources we need,” said MacArthur, co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force.
"The Connecticut Medical Examiner's office welcomes this effort to help medical examiners and crime labs meet the increased demands of the opioid crisis. Connecticut has experienced a 290% increase in accidental drug overdose deaths over the past 5 years. The most common drug in these deaths is now illicit fentanyl (and fentanyl analogues). For the medical examiner's office, the opioid crisis has resulted in more autopsies and toxicology testing along with increased costs for body transport and the investigative staff,” said Dr. Gill from the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
More than 63,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, more than two-thirds of which are attributable to prescription and illegal opioid use. Deaths due to a heroin-related overdose rose by nearly 20% in 2016, and the overdose death rate form illicit synthetic opioids such as fentanyl more than doubled
Esty was a leader on the bipartisan Opioid Conference Committee for the House and Senate versions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in 2016. The legislation authorized $77.9 million per year from fiscal years 2016 through 2020 and devoted funds for treatment and recovery services, alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, law enforcement initiatives, and programs to prevent overdose deaths and improper prescriptions.