Bipartisan legislation to increase the number of treatment professionals advances to U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON, DCToday, the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY), unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation is in response to the nationwide opioid epidemic and the shortage of treatment workers that is now preventing those with substance abuse disorder from receiving treatment. The legislation offers student loan repayment of up to $250,000 for participants who agree to work as a substance use disorder treatment professional in areas most in need of their services. Clark’s legislation was one of thirty opioid related bills voted on by the U.S. House, all of which are attempting to alleviate the impact and expansion of the nationwide epidemic. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.
“Today, Congress took a major step forward in our fight to combat the opioid crisis,” said Clark. “Every new treatment professional we invest in could mean survival for someone’s child, parent, sibling, or friend who may not have had access to treatment otherwise. Communities across the nation are calling on us for solutions and this legislation provides the support needed to facilitate their recovery and health.”

Clark’s legislation was one of almost thirty opioid related bills being voted on today by the House relating to the nationwide epidemic. Experts report that only 10 percent of the 22 million Americans with a substance use disorder receive treatment. This treatment gap is largely attributed to the shortage of workers in the substance use disorder field.

To qualify for the program, participants must agree to be employed in a full-time substance use disorder treatment position in a high need area for up to six years. That job must involve serving in a direct patient care role and can include serving as a physician, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, social worker, recovery coach, or any other role listed in the bill. Participants may serve in a wide range of facilities, so long as they are located in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals or a high rate of drug overdose deaths. The bill gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the flexibility to add eligible professions or facilities as the epidemic evolves.

Numerous medical, substance abuse, and advocacy groups have endorsed the legislation.
“The National Council applauds the passage of the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act. By creating a dedicated fund to pay for loan forgiveness for substance use disorder professionals, it creates a program to help addiction treatment professionals repay student loans, adds incentives for students to pursue these professions, and ultimately increases timely access to treatment for individuals living with addiction,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health. “We thank Representative Clark for championing this bipartisan legislation, which will increase the availability of substance use disorder services, helping individuals along the road to recovery.”

“The Council on Social Work Education is pleased that Congress is leading the fight in the opioid abuse crisis, a nonpartisan epidemic,” said CSWE President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey, PhD, MSW.  “As one of the largest providers of professional substance use and mental health services in the U.S., social workers are in a unique position to impact the lives of millions of Americans battling addiction. Federal support for education and training programs is critical to ensuring that the U.S. has the proper supply of health professionals to meet growing demands.”  

“The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is committed to fighting the opioid epidemic, and we commend Reps. Clark and Rogers for ensuring student loan repayment is available for those providers who work to deliver this vital treatment to their patients” said Joyce Knestrick, PhD, C-FNP, APRN, FAANP, President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.  

“The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is proud to support the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act of 2018. On behalf of our 810 member institutions, we thank Representative Clark and original cosponsors, Representatives Rogers, Sarbanes, and Guthrie for the bipartisan effort to see this legislation passed in the House. Our students and faculty are providing care in the communities hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. Education is key in a crisis of this proportion, and our schools of nursing are actively engaged in preparing a nursing workforce to be frontline leaders,” said Dr.  Ann Cary, Chair of the AACN Board of Directors.

The legislation is also supported by the American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees, American Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the Addiction Policy Forum, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, the American Osteopathic Association, the Addiction Medicine Foundation, the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose, Legacy Community Health, the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the HIV Medicine Association, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

Full text of H.R. 5102 can be found here.