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Government waste is hobbling the fight against the opioid crisis

January 27, 2020

Government waste is hobbling the fight against the opioid crisis
Washington Examiner
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
January 27, 2020

During my time traveling across the 4th District of Missouri, I have seen firsthand the way the drug abuse epidemic is ravaging our local communities and families — especially the abuse of opiates. Unfortunately, government inefficiency often makes it difficult for Congress to track our legislative solutions and measure how they translate into tangible results that improve the lives of the people. The lack of tracking mechanisms and fiscal transparency must be addressed.

If you ask someone in Congress what happens to a massive spending bill after it is signed into law, you won’t get the same answer twice. The immense size of the federal government makes it virtually impossible to track funding, and although some taxpayer money reaches its intended purpose, there remain billions upon billions of dollars that may be unaccounted for within the mass intricacies and levels of bureaucracy.

As a steward of taxpayer funds, I believe the federal government must do better. That is why I am leading an effort with 18 of my colleagues to secure an audit of the federal government’s mechanisms for disbursing the billions of taxpayer dollars that are intended for our local communities to combat the opioid crisis.

Congress has come together to address the opioid abuse in several ways, and we must ensure the funds we authorized are being spent as promised. We need more transparent mechanisms for dispersal so communities desperate for help know what assistance is available and how they can access the funds.

With my support, Congress has authorized nearly $20 billion to address substance use and mental health in the past three appropriations bills, bolstering methods to improve treatment and prevention efforts, addressing workforce needs in our rural communities, and much-needed funding for behavioral health.

In 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, creating a $130 million opioid abuse grant program for opioid abuse reduction programs at the local and state level.

During the 115th Congress, President Trump signed into law one of the major anti-opioid legislative packages, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. This bill includes multiple provisions to address the opioid crisis, including public health reforms to advance treatment prevention and bolster efforts to combat illicit synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.

That same year, the House passed more than 45 smaller, targeted bills to combat the opioid crisis, marking one of the most significant congressional pushes against the drug crisis to date. These reforms range from aid for addiction treatment and abuse prevention to providing additional tools for local law enforcement to help fight back against this scourge that has invaded far too many of our communities.

I was glad to lend my support to these funding bills and hoped my local communities could apply for these grants, bringing needed help to my constituents. But trying to track where and how the funds have been used has proven to be a nearly impossible task.

The opioid epidemic brought Congress together. This is no small feat. Members from both sides of the aisle fought to protect the people of this country. We cannot allow the tangled mess of Washington bureaucracy to choke out these intentions. It is my hope that this audit, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, will be the first step in devising a consistent, transparent way of tracking and disbursing these funds so help will reach those who need it, and everyone will benefit from a society free from the scourge of opioid addiction.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican, represents Missouri's 4th Congressional District.