Clark bill helps adolescents, young adults struggling with opioids

Washington, DC -- Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN) introduced the Youth Opioid Use Treatment Help Act (YOUTH Act) to help children, adolescents and young adults suffering from opioid use disorders access the treatment they need. Stigma, financial barriers, limited availability, and lack of information have contributed to the underutilization of lifesaving medication-assisted treatment programs. The YOUTH Act expands and strengthens access to medication-assisted treatment programs for adolescents and young adults. 

“I’ve met too many parents across the Commonwealth who have lost their child to opioids,” said Clark. “Stigma and a lack of resources should not stand in the way of lifesaving care. The YOUTH Act ensures that young people who are suffering from substance use disorder can get the medicine and care they need so they can focus on their health and success.”

“Opioid use disorder is an epidemic that has devastated families and communities here in Southern Indiana and across the country. It’s heartbreaking that so many young adults are falling into addiction’s hold for one reason or another,” said Bucshon. “Our effort to expand access to treatment for the most vulnerable is about saving lives. We have to break the cycle and give those battling this disease hope for the future. As a father and doctor, I’m proud to help introduce the YOUTH Act to give young adults every chance to win this fight.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) young adults ages 18 to 25 are the most likely to engage in prescription opioid misuse. The incidence of heroin use has been found to be 19 times higher among people who misused prescription drugs. Substance use disorders in adolescents affect key developmental and social transitions, and can interfere with normal brain maturation.  Studies show that critically needed early intervention programs in the form of counseling and medication-assisted treatments significantly reduce opioid use and help patients stay in treatment. Yet reports indicate that as many as 90 percent of youth affected by substance addiction get no treatment at all. 

The YOUTH Act reauthorizes and broadens eligibility for substance use treatment services for adolescents and young adults under the Public Health Service Act.  It authorizes the creation of programs to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for children, adolescents and young adults with opioid use disorders, and appropriates $5 million for those programs. Clark’s bill also directs the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the existing federal programs addressing substance use among young people and any gaps in available research on those issues. The Act also directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress on the programs’ effectiveness, as well any unintended consequences (such as abuse or diversion), among other things.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), Congress’ opioid crisis response package, which incorporates 3 of Clark’s opioid crisis response proposals. The House unanimously passed Clark’s bills: the Reducing Unused Medications Act, the Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act, and Lali’s Law. The bills are aimed at reducing the amount of unused and unwanted pain medications, ensuring safe care plans for families with infants suffering from opioid exposure, and increasing access the availability of the overdose antidote Narcan. In 2015, Clark’s legislation to help newborns suffering from opioid exposure passed unanimously in the U.S. House and was signed into law. 

The YOUTH Act is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Addiction Policy Forum, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

Full text of HR. 5956 can be found here.