Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Need For More Action To Combat Opioid Addiction

Today I had planned to be in the Senate Judiciary Committee debating and pushing for passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA.  Unfortunately, the markup was postponed but I am hopeful that next week we will make progress on this important bill.  The need for this legislation and Senator Shaheen’s emergency supplemental appropriations bill is nothing short of urgent.  States like Vermont and New Hampshire have been deeply affected by this wave of addiction.  The media has covered this very personal and ravaging epidemic like never before.  We have seen a transformation in how we talk about this issue and the need for solutions.  Removing the stigma of drug addiction is important but now we need more than talk.  The communities devastated by this epidemic need resources for prevention and treatment.  It is time for Congress to act.

For years I have been convening field hearings and sitting at kitchen tables listening to Vermonters discuss innovative approaches to confront drug abuse and related crime.  Vermonters have been clear that we cannot arrest or jail our way out of this problem.  We have lost the war on drugs because we relied primarily on unnecessarily harsh sentencing laws.  Effective law enforcement practices will always play an important role, which is why I have worked to secure funding for state-led anti-heroin task forces.  But if we want to find lasting solutions to these problems, we need to identify and support effective prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.  CARA does just that.  This legislation would support innovative, evidence-based solutions—best practices that are already showing great progress in states like Vermont.

We need to do all we can to prevent and treat the abuse of prescription opioids.  I have for years pushed the FDA to promote safer alternatives to powerful prescription painkillers, and to remove from the market older, less safe drugs.  The FDA’s announcement today to expand access to abuse-deterrent formulations of these powerful drugs is a step in the right direction in response to my concerns.   However, the FDA can and must do more.   I ask unanimous consent to insert into the Record the April 28, 2014 Leahy-Blumenthal letter to the FDA Commissioner. 

I am also concerned that rural communities are in desperate need of the life-saving drug naloxone, so that opioid overdoses can be stopped.  I have heard from law enforcement officers and grateful families what a miracle this drug can be so we need to make sure we have it supplied where it can literally save lives. 

In Vermont, we have seen a 65 percent increase in the number of Vermonters getting treatment for their addiction over the past two years.  This is encouraging progress.  Yet we know that there are hundreds more who are on waiting lists, while other patients in rural corners of my state travel hours just to get their medication.  We need to do more about this real threat to our communities.

I am proud to cosponsor Senator Shaheen’s emergency supplemental appropriations bill to fund additional public health outreach, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts.  We have passed much larger emergency supplemental bills to address swine flu and Ebola.  It is time for us to take the health epidemic already in our communities just as seriously. 

Before I conclude, I want to mention legislation I am introducing today to protect workers and families in Vermont, and across the country, who are being forced to give up crucial rights because of “legal fine print” forced on them by corporations.

The Restoring Statutory Rights Act combats the injustice of forced arbitration.  It will ensure that hardworking men and women can vindicate their rights in court, instead of being forced into a private, shadow justice system.

I urge members to support this bill and to work together to support the rights of all Americans. 

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