Of all the crises confronting our nation, the fentanyl epidemic stands out as one of the most sinister. A recent study shows the fentanyl-opioid epidemic could claim an additional 1.2 million American lives by the end of the decade. In New Hampshire, more than 80 percent of the nearly 500 drug overdose deaths reported in 2022 involved fentanyl. This scourge is spreading like wildfire through the United States, leaving families and entire communities devastated in its wake.
The SUPPORT Act was passed in 2018 to help tackle the crisis head-on. This landmark legislation was crafted on a bipartisan basis to build out America’s addiction care infrastructure through programs for substance abuse treatment and prevention, as well as to equip law enforcement with the resources they need to respond effectively. Specifically, the SUPPORT Act provides funding to community-based organizations fighting the addiction crisis, as well as expands access to treatments for pregnant women and incarcerated people. However, many of these programs expired in 2023 and now need reauthorization.
Our own state has been well represented in this process. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) not only helped develop and pass into law the initial SUPPORT Act, but she has also been heavily involved in the push to reauthorize this legislation. Since the SUPPORT Act was passed in 2018, there have been some, but not many, major developments out of Congress addressing the opioid crisis. Many bills that are aimed at tackling the epidemic have unfortunately stalled, losing some lawmakers’ attention and support to other issues. Luckily, the reauthorization of the SUPPORT Act is now being used as an opportunity to rope in many of the fixes that have previously fallen through the cracks.
For instance, Sen. Hassan is working on a bipartisan basis to make sure the SUPPORT Act reauthorization is strengthened with language from these other pieces of critical legislation. That includes enhanced student loan support to healthcare workers focusing on addiction treatment, expanded access to fentanyl and xylazine test strips, and increased training for first responders and community members on the use of overdose reversal drugs. Those provisions are aimed at making a difference on the ground by giving direct support to those fighting the epidemic day in and day out.
The addition of these provisions is needed — while the original SUPPORT Act was a welcome development, the situation has only grown more dire in recent years. In 2018, when the legislation was first passed, the annual death toll due to drug overdoses in the U.S. stood at around 70,000. Today, that number has increased to roughly 110,000.
What’s more, health officials are warning that a “fourth wave” of the opioid crisis is approaching. It is marked by the devastating increase in overdoses from fentanyl mixed with other stimulants. With tragic developments like this, overdoses tied to synthetic opioids are now the leading cause of death for American adults between the ages of 18 and 45. We cannot continue to let this plague take the future of our state and our nation.
Given the scope of this threat, we need every tool in the toolkit available to mount a successful response. Today’s efforts to reauthorize and enhance the SUPPORT Act will go a long way toward making these tools more accessible. Leaders in Congress like Sen. Hassan should be lauded for recognizing the importance of this issue and keeping it front and center on Washington’s radar. The human toll this crisis has already cost us is unconscionable. Let’s do everything in our power to turn the tide in 2024.