Leahy: Senate Must Direct More Resources To Combat Opioid & Heroin Addiction

 WASHINGTON (MONDAY, Feb. 29, 2016) – The Senate is poised this week to consider the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bipartisan bill to promote a community-based response to addiction to heroin and other opioids.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a leading supporter of the bill who has long championed efforts to treat addiction, said the Senate must embrace an approach that includes more resources and a greater focus on preventive methods.

“Addiction is a disease.  And our tools for combatting addiction must be the same as for any other disease — a commitment to evidence-based education and proven techniques for prevention, treatment, and recovery programs,” said Leahy, who has led multiple field hearings on the issue of opioid and heroin addiction in Vermont, including in Rutland in 2014.

Leahy, a former prosecutor, said that CARA “treats addiction as the public health crisis that it is.”  Specifically, CARA authorizes a grant program Leahy helped to create that expands access to Medication Assisted Treatment programs.  And importantly for Vermont, and at Leahy’s urging, the bill also includes specific language to help rural communities obtain the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone.

However, Leahy noted the bipartisan legislation by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) should not be Congress’s sole response to the very real problem of opioid and heroin abuse plaguing states throughout the country.  The Senate should also pass a $600 million emergency appropriations bill authored by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to direct vital resources to combat heroin and opioid addiction, Leahy said.

“I hope all the senators supporting CARA today will also support Senator Shaheen’s legislation.  One goes hand in hand with the other,” Leahy said.  “We need to authorize these advances in dealing with the opioid crisis, but then we need to actually fund them.  We cannot pretend that solving a problem as large as opioid addiction costs nothing.  We have an opportunity to equip our communities with the support and resources they need to finally get ahead of addiction. These programs will save lives, and this is a worthy investment.”

A leading member of the Appropriations Committee, Leahy worked on the panel to help establish the Anti-Heroin Task Force to combat illicit trafficking in communities across Vermont and the nation.  The Vermont Drug Task Force received $1.4 million from the first round of grants for this program in September 2015, resulting in the addition of five troopers to focus on heroin trafficking.  The program will receive $7 million in funding in FY16.  CARA authorizes this grant program as well.

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