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Barletta Introduces Workforce Development Bill to Help Fight Opioid Epidemic

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Barletta Introduces Workforce Development Bill to Help Fight Opioid Epidemic

 

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) introduced H.R. 5294, theTreating Barriers to Prosperity Act of 2018.  The legislation will help Pennsylvania communities by making it clear that funding provided through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) can be used to address the impacts of opioid addiction on workforce development and economic growth.  Specifically, the bill allows for ARC funding to be used to facilitate the sharing of best practices to address the opioid crisis.  Further, it designates funds to support programs designed to eliminate or reduce barriers to workforce development, attract and retain healthcare services, businesses, and workers, and develop relevant infrastructure, including broadband which can be used for telemedicine treatment. 

 

“Rampant opioid addiction continues to plague our nation, with Pennsylvania being one of the states suffering most,” Barletta said following introduction of the bill.  “There isn’t a community in our country that hasn’t been touched by this epidemic.  It is a national crisis that must be met with a robust response.  One aspect of this response is employment.  Those suffering from addiction have significant barriers to jobs.  Gainful employment is inseparable from treatment.  A job helps to bring back meaning to life and structure to the aimlessness of addiction.  TheTreating Barriers to Prosperity Act will give the tools necessary to attack this epidemic head on and help find solutions for the Americans struggling with addiction and their families.”

 

In December of 2017, Barletta chaired a hearing in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management titled, “The Opioid Epidemic in Appalachia: Addressing Hurdles to Economic Development in the Region.”  The hearing examined the impact of the opioid crisis on efforts in Appalachia to spur economic development and growth in distressed communities.  A representative of Pennsylvania’s 11th District, Barletta held the hearing to explore possible solutions through federal economic development programs such as the ARC, in addressing this epidemic.

The ARC, specifically, was created in the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965.  The primary function of ARC is to provide economic development assistance to a 13-state region.  The region includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.  ARC is a federal-state governmental agency consisting of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chairman.  Project proposals must originate in, and be approved by, a state.  The Commission allocates the level of funding to each state.

Last year, the ARC commissioned two reports specifically examining potential health challenges to economic development in Appalachia.  In August 2017, the ARC issued “Health Disparities in Appalachia” and “Appalachian Diseases of Despair.”  These reports detail the health and economic disparities in Appalachia:

·         The household income in Appalachia is 80 percent of the U.S. average and 17 percent of Appalachians live below the poverty level.

·         Nationally, the majority of drug overdose deaths involve opioids and, since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids quadrupled.

·         Between 1999 and 2014, while the overall mortality rate in non-Appalachian states decreased by 10 percent, the overall mortality rate in Appalachia increased by 5 percent.  By 2015, the overall mortality rate in Appalachia was 32 percent higher than non-Appalachian regions of the U.S.

·         In 2015, among 15 to 64 year olds in Appalachia, there were 5,594 overdose deaths – 65 percent higher in Appalachia than the rest of the nation. The disparities were greatest among people 25 to 54.

·         In 2015, 69 percent of the overdose deaths were caused by opioids.

·         In comparing the mortality rates for diseases of despair within states with Appalachian portions and non-Appalachian portions – the differences were stark. For example, in 2015, the mortality rate in Appalachian portions of Maryland were 63 percent higher than in non-Appalachian portions.  In Pennsylvania, the difference was 28 percent and in Kentucky it was 26 percent.

The reports highlight that when examining specifically overdose deaths, those individuals who are 25 to 44 years old experienced mortality rates 70 percent higher than the non-Appalachian states.  Typically, this group includes those in their prime working years which has created a significant challenge to economic development in the region.

For example, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, citing a report released in September 2017, noted that opioids are responsible for 20 percent of the workforce decline for men and 25 percent for women.  The Chamber further noted that addressing the opioid epidemic is an integral component of workforce strategy.

As a result, the opioid crisis has created challenges to spurring economic development and job creation in already distressed communities.

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