On October 10, the National League of Cities (NLC) hosted Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, NLC’s first vice president, Huntington, West Virginia Mayor Steve Williams and Knoxville, Tennessee Mayor Madeline Rogero in Washington to highlight the partnership needed from our federal government to successfully combat the opioid crisis in cities across America.
Starting with a briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the mayors shared the need for increased federal funding and a clearer path for cities to access that funding in order to fully combat the opioid epidemic, which touches every community and every stage of life. While they acknowledged the recently passed SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a comprehensive bipartisan effort to improve the way our nation combats the opioid crisis, they noted that it simply did not go far enough.
The mayors described the progress they have made in developing and implementing programs to address substance abuse disorders in their communities, from the special treatment protocol for babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to the dramatic reduction in opioid deaths in Huntington, WV. But they echoed a common refrain that they alone lack the tools and resources to produce a long-lasting response without a strong local-federal partnership.
Following the briefing, the mayors met with key members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including the majority clerk for the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee, as well as Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), to share the message that they hope that Congress will look to ensure that funds appropriated for substance abuse, treatment, prevention and recovery programs make it down to the local level.
The mayors described the reality on the ground: currently, the nearly billion dollars in funds that have been disbursed in the last two years to the states by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within HHS, have not made it to cities. And, while a large portion of this money remains unspent, communities across the nation are struggling to meet the ongoing needs associated with this devastating epidemic.
The mayors finished their trip to Washington by meeting with representatives from the Administration, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to share a similar message that was expressed to Congress. If Congress and the administration fail to act to guarantee that the already-appropriated funds are spent — and are spent in a strategic and thoughtful way in communities large and small — then we will surely face further challenges in this fight.
NLC will continue to partner with Congress and the administration to ensure that the voice of cities remain a part of this important conversation.
About the Authors: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.
Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.