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October 2018
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Opinion:
by U.S. Senator Dean Heller
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Fighting the Opioid Crisis in Nevada 

 U.S. Senator Dean Heller
U.S. Senator Dean Heller

The opioid epidemic has devastated communities in Nevada and all throughout this country, and many families continue to struggle as they watch their loved ones battle with addiction.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 757 people died from drug overdoses in Nevada in a single year. From 2010 to 2016, 85 percent of the opioid related deaths in Nevada were deemed accidents, and opioid related emergency room encounters increased by more than 130 percent over a six-year period.

To help states address the opioid epidemic, I joined my colleagues in passing sweeping legislation called the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which included seven of my provisions to specifically help mothers, children, and individuals battling addition. Let me tell you about how this legislation will make a difference.

Every 25 minutes a baby is born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, a withdrawal condition often caused by use of opioids and other addictive substances in pregnant women. In Nevada specifically, there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of babies born with this syndrome as reported by the CDC. Symptoms of NAS include body shakes, breathing problems, fever, or a high-pitched cry in infants. Babies who have NAS are usually treated in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where treatment costs can be more than five times the cost of treating other newborns. Furthermore, with the bright lights and loud noises, the NICU is not always the best place for a newborn who is suffering from NAS.

This is why I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see that newborns suffering from NAS have access to treatment in residential pediatric recovery facilities, an alternative to the NICU. My provision, the Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act, would allow Medicaid to cover health care services provided to infants in residential pediatric recovery facilities In addition to hospitals, allowing babies to receive quality care in the best setting. I also helped author and pass the Help for Moms and Babies Act to help ensure pregnant women seeking treatment for a substance abuse disorder have access to prenatal and postpartum services.

To provide patients the tools they need to make well-informed decisions related to their health, I also introduced the Informing Seniors about Opioids Act. According to a 2018 HHS Inspector General report, approximately 460,000 Medicare recipients received high amounts of opioids in 2017 and around 71,000 beneficiaries are at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose. That’s why I worked on a bipartisan bill to update the “Medicare and You” handbook to include information on opioid use, pain management, and alternative pain management treatments. Since this handbook is sometimes the starting point for seniors to learn about various benefits and plans, our provision will help provide beneficiaries with the resources they need to make the most appropriate health decisions for them.

Whether it is making sure that treatment is available for pregnant women who have a substance abuse disorder or providing more information to seniors about opioid use and pain management, this legislation is a positive step toward helping communities across Nevada heal. As the fifth most bipartisan Senator in the U.S. Senate, I’ll continue advancing policies that will provide Nevada the tools it needs to further prevent drug addiction, reduce the number overdose deaths, and increase Nevadans’ access to treatment and recovery options.