Donnelly Announces Bipartisan Package Focused on Addressing Opioid Epidemic in Rural Communities

Bills would help rural communities combat substance use disorders through treatment centers and increased availability of telemedicine

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), along with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), announced a bipartisan package of legislation aimed at combatting substance use disorders in rural communities. The bills would help these communities by directing a pair of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to focus their efforts on providing the facilities and access to telemedicine needed to prevent and treat substance use disorder, including the opioid epidemic.

Donnelly said, “This bipartisan package would help us fight back against the opioid epidemic that has harmed rural communities in Indiana and across the country. I’m proud to work with Senate Ag Committee Chairman Roberts and Senator Strange on these bills to expand access to treatment through new facilities and the increased availability of telemedicine. We know that it will take all of us, regardless of party or geography, to confront this public health crisis.”

Donnelly’s introduction of these bills are a follow-up of his most recent effort to address the opioid epidemic. Last month, he introduced the bipartisan Strengthening the Addiction Treatment Workforce Act, which 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. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17).

Today’s package of bills include the following:

  • Community Facilities Direct Loans and Grants, introduced with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee – USDA operates the Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant program to provide funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas. These are facilities that provide an essential infrastructurelike health care facilities, police stations, and courthouses. The Donnelly-Roberts bill would give priority for applicants to the program who want to develop facilities to provide substance abuse prevention, treatment, and/or recovery services. The bill also would make telemedicine facilities and systems to provide telemedicine for substance use disorder treatment.

Roberts said, “Like many rural states, Kansas is not immune from the growing rise of opioid abuse in this country. From prevention to recovery, this bipartisan legislation will be of enormous benefit to rural Americans and will help provide communities the additional tools they desperately need to battle the rapidly accelerating opioid abuse crisis.”

  • Distance Learning and Telemedicine, introduced with Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) – USDA Rural Development operates the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program to offer grants to rural communities to help address education or medical provider shortages by linking them directly with teachers and medical service providers. The Donnelly-Strange bill would set aside 20% of the funding for the program to grant applicants who can use the funds for substance use disorder treatment services.

Donnelly has been a leading voice in the fight against the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic. 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.