Hassan and Kuster talk substance use funding, fentanyl precursors in China
Joining the New England Council Monday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, one half of the state’s congressional delegation discussed current efforts on Capitol Hill related to mental health and substance use.
Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster answered questions from Neil Meehan, chief physician executive at Exeter Health Resources, about where federal dollars have been flowing, recent accomplishments in the behavioral health sphere, and challenges that are continuing to evolve.
Here are two takeaways from Hassan and Kuster’s conversation at the New England Council’s program, “Behavioral Health Forum: Regional Challenges and Solutions.”
Reauthorizing the 2018 SUPPORT Act
The SUPPORT Act, signed into law in 2018, was Congress’ most comprehensive opioid crisis response to date, shifting the federal approach to addressing substance abuse. In New Hampshire, it resulted in a nine-fold increase in related funding, Hassan said.
But the SUPPORT Act expired at the end of September and now needs to be reauthorized, something Hassan and Kuster have been working on in Washington.
Hassan said the reauthorization needs to increase and sustain funding, target workforce issues, and address the changing nature of criminal organizations bringing fentanyl and xylazine into the U.S. Some related provisions she’s spearheading include student debt relief for individuals who chose to enter the addiction field, federal funding for fentanyl and xylazine test strips, and making substance use disorder treatment permanent under Medicaid.
Earlier this year, Kuster introduced legislation to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act, with additional provisions including: expanded access to treatment and recovery programs; resources to monitor infections related to drug use; prescription drug diversion; laboratory detection tools; workforce investment; and support for recovery community organizations and peer-run recovery support, among others.
China fentanyl precursor threat
While much progress has been made to stand up treatment infrastructure and fight addiction-related stigma, Hassan said transnational criminal organizations are changing their behavior as a result.
Hassan recently traveled to China as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese officials about limiting the export of precursor chemicals used to make illicit fentanyl by cartels in Mexico.
Following her visit, during a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing, Hassan questioned officials from the Department of State, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security about how U.S. agencies can use international partnerships to address the precursor chemical pipeline that cartels are using to produce illicit synthetic drugs.
Last week, the White House announced that China had agreed to resume cooperation against counternarcotics with the U.S. following a meeting between both presidents.
“Now what the cartels are doing (is) tricking people into taking their first dose of fentanyl by counterfeiting pills,” Hassan said, calling it an “insidious transnational problem” that has prompted widespread warnings to young people and families about the dangers of buying drugs on the internet.
Regarding international drug trafficking, Kuster added that related issues facing U.S. law enforcement are “very real.” “We can’t have it both ways,” she said. “Not supporting law enforcement and hoping to solve this problem.”