Donnelly, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Workforce Shortage to Confront Opioid Epidemic

Strengthening the Addiction Treatment Workforce Act would provide incentives for providers to practice at substance use disorder treatment facilities in underserved areas

U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced today that they introduced the Strengthening the Addiction Treatment Workforce Act (S.1453). Their bipartisan legislation would help address the shortage of providers who treat people battling substance use disorders by making addiction treatment facilities eligible for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) student loan repayment and forgiveness program.

This bill would allow mental health and addiction treatment facilities to expand the number of health care providers including nurses, social workers, counselors, psychologists, and therapists, who care for people struggling with substance use disorders. The National Health Service Corps facilitates recruitment and training aimed at increasing the availability of primary care services to populations in underserved areas. In Indiana, there are 59 counties that are considered underserved for primary care and 52 counties underserved for mental health care, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Donnelly said, “We need more substance use and addiction professionals on the frontlines to help Hoosiers and Americans across the country battling addiction to opioids or other dangerous substances. This bipartisan legislation would increase the number of providers trained to help people get the treatment they need, and I am proud to work with Senator Murkowski on this effort. As I have long said, it is going to take all of us working together to effectively combat the opioid abuse epidemic, and while we are making some progress, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Murkowski said, “In Alaska, sadly many of our communities are scarred by alcohol and substance abuse, including those in rural areas. This bill could go a long way in helping curb these problems by providing needed support and improvingh both quality and access to care.  Qualifying addiction treatment facilities as NHSC sites in rural Alaska will help attract and retain a well-trained addiction treatment workforce to the medically underserved areas of Alaska, enabling more Alaskans to receive quality addiction treatment services. This is a step in the right direction in addressing the state’s substance abuse problems.”

The legislation is supported by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which is comprised of 2,900 community-based mental health and addiction treatment organizations across the country, 30 of which are in Indiana.

Linda Rosenberg, President & CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health, said, “The National Council is grateful to Senators Donnelly and Murkowski for their leadership in strengthening the addiction treatment workforce. With drug overdoses now surpassing traffic accidents as a leading cause of death, our nation must do more to ensure that clinics in the hardest-hit areas have the workforce they need to address this devastating issue. In the midst of a dire workforce shortage, this bill will help addiction treatment clinics recruit qualified staff and improve access to care.”

Over the past three-plus years as Indiana has been devastated by the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics, Donnelly has actively and effectively fought for new efforts to support prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. He helped get passed and signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes a $10.9 million federal grant that will support prevention, treatment, and recovery services in Indiana. Donnelly also helped enact the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which included several of his provisions. Earlier this year, Donnelly brought Dr. Tim Kelly, a leading practitioner of addiction medicine in Indianapolis and thought leader in the fight against the opioid epidemic, to President Trump’s Joint Address before Congress. He invited Dr. Kelly to highlight the critical work he and other providers are doing across Indiana on the frontlines to help treat Hoosiers battling opioid addiction and other dangerous substances.