COLUMBIA, S.C. (WLTX)—As Congress debates repealing the Affordable Care Act, researchers are warning that doing so would make the nation’s opioid epidemic worse. "It could have potentially devastating consequences,” says Christina Edwards, Ph.D., a professor at the University of South Carolina and one of the authors of a paper that was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

She says about 150,000 South Carolinians have their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and get federal subsidies that help them pay for it. If those subsidies go away, as Republicans in Congress are proposing, it’s likely those people will lose their health insurance.

Of those 150,000 South Carolinians, she says an estimated 15,000 have a current opioid use disorder, based on CDC figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. If those people lose their health insurance, they would lose their drug treatment as well.

"There can be a lot of outcomes, and, unfortunately, none of them are positive. There's a lot of research to suggest that this particular addiction is a very powerful one and that rates of improvement are very low without access to high quality addiction treatment," she says.

She says she’s hopeful that, even though Democrats and Republicans may disagree on the ACA and whether to repeal it, they seem to agree that the opioid epidemic needs to be addressed. She and the paper’s other authors, Peter D. Friedmann, M.D., and Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., write, “Moreover, the President campaigned on the promise to respond to the opioid epidemic. In an October 2016 speech he delivered in New Hampshire, another state hit hard by opioid addiction, he said that he ‘would dramatically expand access to treatment slots’ and ‘help all of those people so seriously addicted get the assistance they need to unchain themselves.’ We hope that he will live up to his campaign promises by ensuring that funding for these critical provisions remain law, whether through the continuation of the ACA or through a replacement plan.”