On November 30th, the House of Representatives voted 392-26 in favor of a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act. Then five days later, the Senate voted 85-13 in favor. President Obama has already said he will sign it as soon as he can. Why such a rush? Because the Cures Act “could help unlock a cure for Alzheimer’s, end cancer as we know it, and help people seeking treatment for opioid addiction, said Obama in his most recent weekly address.
Mainly, the bill allows “the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] more discretion in the kinds of studies required to evaluate new devices and medicines for approval,” as written by NPR. This would speed up the process of FDA approval for certain drugs and medical devices. Also, the bill provides significant funding for the National Institutes of Health, as well as for researching cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other serious illnesses.
Most importantly for the addiction recovery community, the bill provides $1 billion in funding to combat heroin/prescription pill abuse. “For nearly a year I’ve been calling for this investment so hundreds of thousands of Americans can get the treatment they need,” Obama said in the address.
What this Means for Opioid Addiction Recovery
The addiction recovery aspect of the Cures Act is very much an extension of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, or CARA, the single largest effort toward addiction recovery in our nation’s history. However, Obama requested $1.1 billion in funding for CARA and only $181 million was approved. With the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act, the original amount requested by the president is provided.
Regarding the Cures Act, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota “called the bill’s broad approach and widespread support ‘significant’ in a chamber often unable to act because of partisan gridlock,” as reported by her state’s Star Tribune. Klobuchar was one of the proponents of CARA, and she understands the opioid epidemic better than most. “As a former prosecutor, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by opioid abuse in communities across the country. In Minnesota alone, overdose deaths rose by 11 percent in just one year,” Klobuchar said.
With a billion dollars in funding, the Cures Act promises more education and prevention efforts, expanded Narcan availability, resources to treat incarcerated individuals with addiction, disposal sites for unused prescription pills, and programs aimed directly at the heroin epidemic.
It’s no wonder that just like CARA, the Cures Act was passed with flying colors. However, some government officials have criticized the 21st Century Cares Act.
The main argument against the act says that it financially benefits the drug industry and the medical device industry, but nobody else. The Los Angeles Times called the act “a huge deregulatory giveaway to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry…” adding that “nothing in the measure would address the main problem the public sees with the drug industry – inordinately high prices.”
Yes, the Cures Act will speed up the process for drugs and devices to get FDA approval, but with addiction and other diseases killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, something needs to be done. Surely the FDA won’t approve medicines or devices they see unfit, and this author for one trusts science.
Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is an enormous benefit for those battling opioid addiction, and with the Cures Act funding research with billions of dollars, some good must come of this. The advancements made possible by this act could turn out to save countless lives.