United States Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s bill to expand opioid addiction research unanimously passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Wexton, a Democrat who represents the 10th District, which stretches from McLean through Loudoun and west to Frederick County, said in a phone interview that the research would look into “the science of opioid addiction” and how social and behavioral issues, stigma, socio-economic status and access to treatment play a part.
The goal of the Expanding Findings for Federal Opioid Research and Treatment (EFFORT) Act is to provide more understanding of how to more effectively treat opioid addiction. The bill states there are research gaps that currently exist in its prevention and treatment. EFFORT seeks to close those research gaps and promote greater collaboration and interdisciplinary research into the opioid epidemic, with the directors of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supporting merit-reviewed and competitively awarded research on the science of opioid addiction.
More than 200 people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley have died from opioid overdoses since 2012. Statewide, nearly 1,250 Virginians died from opioid overdoses in 2017 alone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“The opioid crisis has impacted too many families in my district and across Virginia, leaving devastation and heartbreak in its wake,” Wexton said in a prepared statement. “Addiction is an illness, and if we hope to bring an end to this crisis, we need to support adequate scientific research and funding. This bipartisan bill is one step towards stopping the cycle of addiction and saving lives, and I’m proud to have ushered it through the House.”
Wexton said the opioid epidemic is something that impacts every congressional district. She introduced the bill alongside Rep. Jim Baird (R-Ind.) in June.
“I feel confident that it will get broad bipartisan support on the Senate side as well,” Wexton said. “It was extremely well-received over here on the House side. And we are working with some senators’ offices about getting a Senate version up and running in the near future.”
The bill was a continuation of work Wexton did as a state senator to combat the opioid epidemic. She said it’s an issue where she has been able to reach across party lines to get solutions.
Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, said the coalition supports the EFFORT Act.
“The effects of this public health crisis have been seen in the number of children in foster care, babies born substance exposed, and grandparents now raising their grandchildren,” Cummings said in the release, adding that she hopes the expanded research “will help to decrease preventable deaths caused by opioid overdoses and will drive better treatment approaches.”