Senate Approves Leahy-Backed Comprehensive Legislation To Combat Opioid & Heroin Addiction

Leahy: “This bill is historic because it marks the first time that we are treating addiction like the public health crisis that it is.”

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, March 10, 2016) – The U.S. Senate Thursday overwhelmingly, in a vote of 94 to 1, approved major legislation backed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that addresses the opioid/heroin crisis that has gripped Vermont and states across the nation. 

Leahy on Thursday praised the Senate’s passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bill which aims to tackle opioid and heroin addiction through the same kind of community-based approach that has made significant improvements in Vermont.  “Vermont’s experience and Vermont’s solutions have informed the writing of this bill,” Leahy said.  As Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy helped shepherd the legislation through the Judiciary Committee and through the Senate.

Leahy, a former prosecutor, continued:  “I am proud to be a cosponsor of CARA, and I am glad to see the Senate pass this bill.  This bill is historic because it marks the first time that we are treating addiction like the public health crisis that it is.  We are not imposing harsh and arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences on those who abuse drugs.  We are not condemning the poor and sick among us to be warehoused in our nation’s jails.  Today I am hopeful that we have finally learned our lesson from the failed war on drugs.” 

The bill includes key provisions for rural communities.  It 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.

As Leahy noted, however, the bill does not include additional — and desperately needed — funding for states to tackle opioid and heroin addiction.  Leahy said he would continue pushing for the Senate to pass additional funding.

“The Senate missed an opportunity to provide real funding for this effort when Republicans blocked Senator Shaheen’s amendment that would have provided for emergency supplemental appropriations,” Leahy said.  “So we need to keep fighting to ensure that we provide the necessary resources to support implementation of this bill.  In Vermont and across this country, there are few issues more pressing than opioid and heroin addiction, and I will not stop working with people throughout our state to help fight this epidemic.” 

Leahy has long championed efforts to treat addiction.  In recent years, he has held four Judiciary Committee field hearings in Vermont to examine the growing problem of drug addiction in rural communities.  At those hearings, Leahy heard from local leaders, state officials, and organizations like Project VISION and the Boys & Girls Club who are all working together to address the opioid crisis.

A leading member also of the Appropriations Committee, Leahy also worked on that 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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