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Donnelly, Murkowski, Hassan Announce Bipartisan Bill to Address Opioid Treatment Workforce Shortage

Legislation would incentivize students to pursue much-needed substance use disorder treatment work

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) announced the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, bipartisan legislation that would address the ongoing shortage of professionals needed to provide treatment and recovery services as communities combat the opioid abuse epidemic. The bill would incentivize students to pursue substance use disorder work by providing them with student loan relief up to $250,000 if they work for six years in areas that have high overdose rates or a shortage of treatment providers. The program would be open to a number of providers including physicians, nurses, social workers, and behavioral health workers.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 10 percent of the 22 million Americans with a substance use disorder receive treatment. This treatment gap is largely attributed to the shortage of workers in the substance use disorder field.

Donnelly said, “As our communities continue to combat the opioid epidemic, we need more trained substance use and addiction professionals to provide treatment and recovery services. This legislation would provide much-need incentives to increase the number of providers in areas that desperately need them. Investing in these providers could help save the lives of parents, siblings, friends and neighbors that are struggling with addiction.”

Murkowski said, “Substance abuse and the opioid crisis are devastating families and communities across our state.  Part of our challenge is the shortage of licensed professionals in our workforce who are trained to provide care and treatment for those suffering from substance abuse. Addressing this need must be a top priority. Whether it’s more physicians, registered nurses, or social workers, this bill will help us develop a stronger workforce to make sure some of our most vulnerable Alaskans get the support they need. By providing loan repayments to those who want to become substance abuse treatment professionals, we are offering a significant incentive to attract new workers in underserved areas as well as to retain current employees. This legislation will help ensure we have enough workers to address the many who are struggling with substance abuse.”

Hassan said, “We need to drastically expand treatment capacity in order to stem – and eventually reverse – the tide of the opioid epidemic, and one major barrier is a shortage of treatment professionals. I am joining with Senators Joe Donnelly and Lisa Murkowski in introducing this bipartisan bill to help strengthen our treatment workforce by offering student loan repayment for professionals who commit to working in substance use disorder treatment facilities in underserved areas. This a common-sense bill that would make a real difference for those on the front lines of this crisis, and I urge my colleagues to support it without delay.”  

A companion to this legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-05) and Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-05).

In 2017, Donnelly and Murkowski introduced similar legislation, the Strengthening the Addiction Treatment Workforce Act, to address the lack of substance use disorder treatment provider shortage in rural and underserved communities by making addiction treatment facilities eligible for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) student loan repayment and forgiveness program.