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Barletta Bill to Help Communities Fight Opioid Crisis Passes Committee

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Barletta Bill to Help Communities Fight Opioid Crisis Passes Committee
Legislation helps Pennsylvania and other states hit hardest by economic losses due to opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today passed H.R. 5294, theTreating Barriers to Prosperity Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) that would address the impacts of opioid addiction on workforce development and economic growth, and provide communities with the tools necessary to find solutions to this epidemic.  The bill passed committee unanimously by voice and now awaits action on the House floor.

“To battle the opioid crisis, we must have a strong response that addresses not only access to treatment and prevention methods, but also the impact on economic development and labor force participation,” Barletta said.  “In 2016 alone, 4,600 Pennsylvanians died from drug-related overdoses.  Many of those individuals were just 25 to 44 years old and in their prime working years, which has created a significant challenge to economic development.  The Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act will help recover the lost potential for economic growth in communities battling the opioid epidemic while also giving a leg up to those struggling with addiction by breaking down barriers to employment.”

H.R. 5294 clarifies the role of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in addressing the impact of the opioid crisis on economic development.  Specifically, the bill 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.

As Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Barletta held a hearing in December 2017 to explore possible solutions to address the opioid epidemic through federal economic development programs, such as the ARC.  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.

The ARC, which was created in the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965, is a federal-state governmental agency tasked with providing 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.  It is comprised of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chairman.  While the Commission allocates the level of funding to each state, project proposals must originate in, and be approved by, a state.  Last year, ARC commissioned two reports specifically examining potential health challenges to economic development in Appalachia.  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.

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