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November 2018
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Opinion
by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
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Continuing the Fight to Stop Nevada’s Opioid Epidemic

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

The opioid crisis touches every corner of our country. Every day, more than 115 people die from an opioid overdose, and thousands more suffer in the grips of addiction. Now is the time to take meaningful action to confront this public health crisis and support individuals and their families struggling with addiction.

The opioid epidemic has hit Nevada especially hard. In 2017, 388 Nevadans died from opioid overdoses, 46 percent of whom were aged 55 and above. Seniors represent the highest percentage of individuals who die as a result of an overdose. In addition, in 2016, the amount of drug related deaths in Nevada reached 21.7 per 100,000 people, higher than the national average of 19.8.

Last year, I sat down in Reno with law enforcement, clinicians, advocates and individuals recovering from addiction. We discussed positive steps Nevada is taking to combat this growing epidemic, including expanding Medicaid and the formation of a Statewide Partnership on the Opioid Crisis. Recently, the City of Reno filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that have used deceptive marketing practices to downplay the risks of opioid addiction and abuse.

On the federal level, Congress just passed a sweeping opioids package that takes important first steps in expanding access to treatment and cracking down on fraudulent and misleading pharmaceutical practices. This legislation will increase access to addiction treatment and will provide local communities and law enforcement the resources they need to combat the opioid epidemic in Nevada.

I’m the proud cosponsor of two bipartisan bills that were included in the final opioids package and signed into law by the President. The bipartisan Stop Excessive Narcotics in our Retirement (SENIOR) Communities Protection Act will crack down on criminals who scam the Medicare system and protect seniors from those who misuse the Medicare system to illicitly acquire opioids. Criminals often steal seniors’ Medicare numbers and then use them to fraudulently bill Medicare for opioids. This bill will give Medicare Part D, or the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the ability to suspend payments to a pharmacy that is under investigation for fraud. This is the same tool that is available to Medicare Parts A and B.

opioid crisis

My second bill that is now law empowers the Federal Trade Commission to bring enforcement actions against fraudulent treatment centers scamming those in need. The bipartisan opioids package will also make several changes to Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the flood of drugs devastating our communities. In 2016, more than 500,000 Medicare recipients received opioid prescriptions higher than the manufacturer’s recommended amount, many of whom were seniors. This legislation will help limit the over prescription of opioid painkillers within these programs, as well as increase penalties for drug manufacturers and distributors related to the overprescribing of opioids.

Despite these recent accomplishments, more has to be done in Nevada to end this public health crisis. That is why I continue to fight for grant funding in Nevada to help support substance abuse programs. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded more than $2,760,000 to Nevada Urban Indians, Inc. and the State of Nevada Health Division to support mental health and substance abuse services in Nevada. Our state also received more than $8.9 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help support other Nevada health centers and substance abuse treatment programs all across the Silver State.

My job as your Senator is to make sure the interests of Nevadans are at the heart of every decision I make, which is why I am more committed than ever to fighting this opioid epidemic. Too many lives have been lost. I will do everything in my power to see that we build the infrastructure we need to beat this public health crisis, support individuals and their families struggling with addiction, and prevent a future epidemic from devastating our communities.