Sacramento Paralyzed in the Face of Opioid Crisis

a picture of a demonstration safe injection site put together by San FranciscoWhen it comes to legislation dealing with California’s opioid epidemic, it seems that the legislature’s and Governor’s motto is, “Do as little as possible.”

While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that last year’s national drug overdose rate had its first decline in decades, California’s rate went up. In fact, California’s opioid overdoses have gone up 16% since 2016. Last year, the Urban Institute estimated that nearly a quarter million Californians lacked local access to buprenorphine or methadone treatment, usually the first step in recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD).

While counties all over California are suing the opioid makers and distributors who started our opioid epidemic, the industry had gotten a pass from the state Assembly, as it has failed to move AB 1468, the only bill that would charge the industry with any level of reparations for the disaster it’s caused.

While insurers are shortchanging coverage for buprenorphine or methadone treatment, denying access to many in need, the state Senate is giving them a pass, failing to move SB 11, the only bill that would address this discriminatory practice.

While many in the drug addiction treatment and recovery facility industry are making false claims and bilking desperate families, the Governor has vetoed a series of bills, AB 445, AB 920, and SB 589, that would have upgraded treatment and recovery facility quality or prohibited them from false advertising.

While safe injection sites are a proven way of reducing the harm of the opioid epidemic, a bill that would have promoted that measure, AB 362, is stuck in the Senate Health Committee.

Just about the only good legislative news for those fighting our opioid epidemic was the appropriation of $20 million, won by the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, to support buprenorphine or methadone treatment in emergency departments.

Meanwhile, some counties have used funds though a 2015 Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System waiver to increase access to treatment for OUD. These funds are certainly being used to save lives. But many counties, with only a year left on the waiver, have yet to see any of its funds.

Hopefully, in 2020 the Legislature and the Governor will work together to put out the opioid epidemic that is destroying lives, families, and communities across our state. Our opioid overdose rate should be going down, not up. Hundreds of thousands of Californians are waiting for help.