Addressing a National Epidemic
My office receives a great deal of correspondence each day, from letters of support for a piece of legislation to personal anecdotes urging congressional action. One letter my office received was a personal story from a Kentucky mother who lives in Florence.
“I am writing to you,” she said, “on behalf of my son and so many others that have lost or [are] on the verge of losing a loved one due to heroin use. My son is still with me. I want to save his life…”
A few years ago, her son left home, started using heroin, and fell in with the wrong crowd. Ultimately, he was sent to rehab where he stayed for four months.
At that time, she said, her son was doing better — he was clean for half a year, spent time volunteering, and even took part in the walk for NKY Hates Heroin.
And yet, as unfortunately happens so often in the course of this epidemic, her son would still end up relapsing with what she called “his friend Heroin.”
She wrote, “[w]e must have a Heroin Bill this year. There are so many lives lost and so many more headed in that direction… [W]e need treatment, real treatment. Please help me save my son.”
What makes this story so tragic is knowing that it’s just a small glimpse into the far-reaching prescription opioid and heroin epidemic that’s tearing apart families and ravaging communities across our country. In fact, 129 people are dying each and every day as a result of drug overdoses.
In Kentucky the situation is particularly devastating with 1,248 people dying from drug overdoses last year alone — a record high for my state.
It’s clear that more must be done — and soon.
That’s why this week we sent to the president’s desk the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Both the House and the Senate have taken decisive action to combat this epidemic.
As the bill’s name suggests, this legislation takes a comprehensive approach to combatting this scourge. It works to enhance education and prevention efforts to keep more people from ever becoming addicted in the first place. It also bolsters treatment, recovery, and law enforcement tools to help those already in the throes of addiction and to prevent more senseless loss of life.
It’s not hard to see why nearly 250 anti-drug and law enforcement groups support it, calling the bill “a truly comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic” that represents “the critical response we need.”
The bill’s supporters include groups like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, the National Association of Counties, and the Fraternal Order of Police, among dozens and dozens more from coast to coast. They’ve seen the crisis firsthand, they’re working to address it in our communities, and they know more must be done to save lives. They also know the positive impact this bipartisan comprehensive response can have.
Of course, the passage of CARA is just one step in what is sure to be a long road to recovery for our country. This Senate has also provided more than twice as much funding for opioid-related issues as the previous Senate majority provided because, while this legislation can make a significant difference, funding for key anti-drug programs is also necessary.
None of this would have been possible without colleagues who’ve been resolute in addressing this issue. Take Senator Rob Portman from Ohio who has spent countless hours driving the bill forward as the lead Republican sponsor. He’s held many meetings and expert conferences to gain a deeper understanding of the crisis and advance a critical solution that can make a difference.
Then there’s Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire who has studied the devastating toll this epidemic has had on her state particularly. She’s been an outspoken leader on the issue, working to raise awareness and garner bipartisan support for the bill.
Of course there’s also Senator Chuck Grassley (Chairman of the Judiciary Committee) who recognized the urgency of this crisis and made it a priority in the committee he chairs. Legislation to address this epidemic languished in the committee under the previous chairman, but Chairman Grassley worked to change and moved this bill swiftly out of committee so it could be considered on the floor.
And then, there’s Senator Lamar Alexander (Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee) who, as a Senate conferee, worked with members of both chambers to reach a strong bicameral agreement on the bill.
These senators understand the best way to prevent more loss of life by drug overdose is to prevent addiction in the first place. They recognize the best way to keep families together is to help lift up addicts on the road to recovery so they can once again lead fulfilling lives. They also know that to end this suffering once and for all, it’s going to take more efforts down the line. I know they will all continue to rise to the occasion, to serve as voices for the voiceless, and to work to combat this epidemic in the days and years to come.
The president should sign CARA now so that we can begin to heal our communities and to help save lives.
By: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Related Issues: Back to Work, Health Care, Opioid Abuse