03.03.16

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Shaheen’s Emergency Supplemental Amendment

The American people sent all of us here to solve problems.  To strengthen and support our Nation and its people, and to help make ours a more perfect union.  They expect us to govern responsibly, and to work together to improve our communities.  This week we are considering the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA.  Few problems in our country have had as devastating an impact on American families as opioid addiction.  From Vermont, to Kentucky, to Ohio, communities across the country are struggling, and they are reaching for answers and for help.

It is clear there is a strong, bipartisan interest in Congress to address the problems associated with opioid addiction.  And the legislation before us is a good bill.  It demonstrates that Congress now sees addiction for what it is — a public health crisis.  But CARA will not by itself pull our communities out of addiction.  CARA is an unfunded framework.  Addiction is too knotted and massive a challenge to address with a mere change in philosophy.  And we cannot pretend that solving a problem as large as opioid addiction costs nothing.  The emergency funding amendment proposed by Senator Shaheen is an essential part of this effort.  It puts real dollars behind the rhetoric to ensure that the carefully crafted programs authorized in CARA can actually be implemented and can succeed.

Congress has approved much larger emergency funding bills in the past.  Just last year we approved more than $5 billion to combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa, far from our shores.  To be clear, I believe this was funding was appropriate.  But we must now turn our attention to the public health crisis here at home, in our own communities.  More than 40,000 Americans are dying each year from drug overdoses.  In Vermont, state leaders like Governor Shumlin have tackled opioid addiction with an “all-hands-on-deck” approach.  Other community leaders, like the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, have done wonderful work expanding education efforts to prevent young people from becoming addicted in the first place.  I am proud of their efforts, but they will be the first to acknowledge that many challenges remain.  As in other states, addiction has spread across our state, and more Vermonters are dying from drug overdoses.  Several have died while on waitlists for treatment.

Addiction is nothing less than an epidemic, and to solve it, this crisis must treated as an epidemic.  More resources for targeted efforts will save lives and help stabilize families, neighborhoods and communities.  That is why we needed Senator Shaheen’s amendment.  This amendment would have provided resources to strengthen both the law enforcement and public health components needed to tackle the crisis.  Her legislation would have delivered support to state and local law enforcement agencies, anti-heroin task forces, and treatment alternatives to incarceration.  It would have also delivered necessary resources to health care professionals who are overwhelmed by a need they cannot meet.  No one should be turned away when seeking treatment for the terrible disease of addiction.  If cancer patients were refused treatment, we would not hesitate to act, and this should be no different.

We must make a real investment in combatting this ravaging epidemic, and the Shaheen amendment would have ensured that.  Actions speak louder than words, action requires resources, and budgets are where we set priorities.  The American people are watching, and waiting.  It is time for us to stop talking and start acting.  It is time for us to start investing in our own country, our own communities’ needs, and our own people. 

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