Congress Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on Drug Policy in Federal Spending Bill

Press Release December 23, 2022
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

Washington, D.C. – Today’s passage of the federal omnibus package is the latest indication of Congress’ failure to effectively address the overdose crisis. While the package includes additional funding for overdose prevention activities and passage of the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act, it also includes another two-year extension of the Trump-era temporary scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, the continuation of a ban on federal funds being used to purchase syringes for harm reduction purposes and a new prohibition on the use of federal funds to purchase smoking pipes. In response, Grant Smith, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Federal Affairs, released the following statement:

“The federal omnibus package is a mixed bag for drug policy. We are pleased to see additional funding for the CDC to support community-based overdose prevention activities, which has been a DPA priority to secure. We are also extremely grateful for the inclusion of Rep. Paul Tonko’s Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act in this package. Enactment of the MAT Act is incredibly long overdue and will remove unnecessary and counterproductive barriers to life-saving medication to treat addiction. Until now, providers have had to apply for a separate waiver through the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe buprenorphine, which is considered the gold standard to treating opioid use disorder.

“However, we are incredibly disappointed that Congress once again continues to fear-monger and politicize responses to illicit forms of fentanyl and harm reduction over the desperately needed, clear science and public health interventions that work to address the overdose crisis. This is a public health emergency that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the past few years alone.

“Congress has rejected the opportunity to research and test fentanyl-related substances for medical potential–including to reverse fentanyl overdoses–by not passing Senator Cory Booker’s TEST ACT. Instead, Congress has chosen to double down on the racist and counterproductive drug war playbook of increased criminalization by including another two-year extension of the Trump-era temporary scheduling which prevents potentially life-saving research. It’s disappointing that Congress is digging their heels in on ineffective drug policy and preventing us from saving lives. 

“Just as disappointing, the omnibus package continues to block federal funding from being used to purchase syringes for harm reduction purposes and included a new prohibition on the use of federal funding to purchase pipes for harm reduction purposes. Syringes and smoking pipes are some of the most critical harm reduction tools we have to prevent infectious diseases and help keep people who use drugs safer, yet Congress has unconscionably found it fitting to specifically block funding access to these resources. This move perpetuates stigmatization against people who use drugs and runs counter to the Biden administration’s stated commitment to increase access to harm reduction resources.”

“In 2021, we lost 108,000 of our friends, family members, and neighbors to drug overdose – an incredibly painful reminder for so many, especially during the holiday season, of policymakers’ negligence to do what is necessary to save lives. We have the science and evidence to show that a public health response over criminalization can turn the tide on the overdose crisis. It’s time Congress prioritize those responses, that we know work to save lives, in the next legislative session over being influenced by fear-mongering that continues to cost us far too many of our loved ones.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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