Statement On the Introduction of Legislation to Strengthen the Anti-Heroin Task Force Program

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Introduction of Legislation to Strengthen the Anti-Heroin Task Force Program

September 20, 2016

I have come to this Floor many times to speak about the toll that the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin has taken on our communities. When I talk to Vermonters about this crisis – whether at Judiciary Committee field hearings in our state, or in conversations at kitchen tables and on street corners – I hear how opioid abuse destroys lives, tears apart families, and overwhelms communities.

I am proud of our small state, where law enforcement and community leaders have joined together to take a comprehensive and constructive approach to fighting addiction. Together they have created innovative and successful programs such as the Rapid Intervention Community Court in Burlington, and Project VISION in Rutland. The Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Vermont are working with schools and public health officials to help children affected by the epidemic and to prevent them from being swept up in that world. Local television stations are participating in public awareness campaigns to educate our citizens about drug abuse. These are positive efforts that make me proud to be a Vermonter. But I am not here just to praise the good work in my state; I am here to work for my state and all states coping with this drug addiction scourge.

Earlier this year, Congress took an important step forward by passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA. This new law treats addiction as the public health crisis that it is, and I was proud to support this legislation in the Senate. However, the final product fell short. CARA did not include the funding necessary to put its programs to work. And the final legislation stripped out many of the best practices included in the Senate bill, including my provision to authorize the anti-heroin task force program that I helped to establish. This provision was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate, but was stripped out at the last minute by the House. This was a short-sighted decision that could hamper law enforcement agencies’ ability to keep illegal opioids out of our communities.

The legislation I introduce today with Senator Grassley will help ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies can get the necessary funding and support for anti-heroin task forces around the country. This bill would authorize the Attorney General to provide grants to law enforcement agencies engaged in statewide collaborative efforts to investigate and stop the unlawful trafficking of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and prescription opioids. The bill also authorizes grants to support task forces to combat the trafficking of methamphetamines.

States are seeing an influx of powerful, deadly opioids that law enforcement has never seen before. Communities that have been struggling with heroin and prescription drug abuse are now encountering opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, which can kill even in small amounts. In Congress we must support smart policies to reduce the demand for these poisons. And we must support targeted enforcement efforts to keep them out of our communities in the first place.

I know that these task forces work. Last month I heard from Vermont law enforcement officials who shared examples of how the Vermont Drug Task Force is helping them to combat heroin trafficking in our state. The Vermont Drug Task Force has seen a significant increase in heroin investigations so far this year: up 70 percent over the same period last year. The task force has seized the equivalent of more than 94,000 bags of heroin this year alone, with a street value of more than $1 million. The recent addition of five new investigator positions, as the result of Vermont’s $1.4 million anti-heroin task force grant, could not have come at a more critical time.

This legislation will provide the Anti-Heroin Task Force Program with stability and the resources to help more states, just like it is helping Vermont. Our work in Congress on opioid abuse and addiction did not end when we passed CARA. If we are serious about combatting drug addiction, we have to invest in our communities. Let’s build on what we know is working by giving law enforcement agencies the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

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