Bipartisan Bill Would Help Communities, Law Enforcement Combat the Opioid, Heroin Epidemic

‘Before us today is bipartisan legislation that would help combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic at every level. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, is the product of a lot of hard work and bipartisan work by a number of Senators.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding bipartisan efforts in the Senate to address the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin epidemic:

“There is an epidemic sweeping across our nation.

“Ripping through communities. Tearing families apart. Striking at the vulnerable, even babies who have yet to take a first breath.

“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic does not discriminate by demographic or socio-economic status, by age or gender. It touches parents and children, neighbors and coworkers in all 50 states. It’s ending lives at record-breaking rates and it’s growing.

“Deaths from opioids have surged by 200 percent over the last decade-and-a-half alone.

“In my home state of Kentucky, drug overdoses continue to outpace the number of fatalities from traffic accidents.

“This is an issue we’ve been combatting for some time, and we’ve made some important strides along the way, but there is much more to do. This week we have the opportunity to take an important step forward.

“One of the most painful aspects of this epidemic, as I mentioned, is the increasing number of infants who are born dependent on opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin. These children start their lives suffering from drug dependence, which is nearly as hard to imagine as it is heartbreaking.

“Last year I sponsored a bipartisan measure designed to help address this specific issue. I appreciate the Senior Senator from Pennsylvania for working across the aisle with me to advance The Protecting Our Infants Act through Congress, and I’m proud to say that it was signed into law just a few months ago.

“It’s an example of one of the many steps we’ve already begun to take as we look to address this epidemic.

“We took another step forward last week when the Senate voted to confirm a new FDA Commissioner. I’ve been very clear that the FDA must take a stronger approach in regard to this epidemic and its prevention efforts, which is why I appreciated Dr. Califf’s expressed vision for positive change at the agency. I voted for his nomination last week but, as I told him, he should know that we will continue to ensure oversight over his agency’s response going forward.

“This week we have another opportunity to take a step forward — an important step forward.

“Before us today is bipartisan legislation that would help combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic at every level. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, is the product of a lot of hard work and bipartisan work by a number of Senators.

“I would like to recognize the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from Iowa and the Ranking Member from Vermont for acting swiftly to pass this bill through committee by voice vote.

“I appreciate the assistance and cooperation of other leaders on this important issue, like the Chairman of the HELP Committee and the Ranking Member from Washington.

“I also want to thank the sponsors of this bill — the Junior Senators from Ohio, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island and the Senior Senator from Minnesota. These leaders understand the toll this epidemic is taking in our communities, they’ve studied the issue closely in their home states, and they’ve worked with Senators from across the aisle to advance this legislation through the legislative process. It’s thanks to their hard work that we’re debating this bipartisan bill today.

“The Junior Senator from Ohio has called CARA, ‘the only bipartisan legislation that includes a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to help communities combat this epidemic.’

“It would strengthen prescription-drug monitoring programs. It would improve treatment initiatives. It would expand prevention and education. And it would give law enforcement more of the tools it needs to help fight back against this epidemic.

“No wonder this bipartisan legislation is supported by more than 130 national anti-drug groups. In a recent letter, they noted that the only way to ‘stop and reverse current trends’ was with ‘a comprehensive approach, such as that included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, that leverages evidence-based law enforcement and health care services, including treatment.’

“So this bill takes the kind of comprehensive approach that’s needed and at the same time, as these groups also noted in their letter, the ‘the cost of the bill is kept low’ too with ‘no impact on mandatory spending.’

“I ask colleagues to join us in working to pass this bipartisan authorization bill.

“We’ll also have opportunities through the appropriations process this spring to continue important funding just as we did last year. Indeed, just a few months ago we appropriated $400 million to opioid-specific programs — nearly one-third more than what the Senate appropriated the preceding year — and we understand that all $400 million of those funds still remain available to be spent today.

“That’s right, all $400 million remains available to be spent. I sincerely hope our friends across the aisle will join us in supporting this legislation to address our national crisis.

“This is an important bill for each of us in this chamber, and I look forward to taking action today to get us closer to seeing it become law. I’ve talked about the urgency and multifaceted complexity associated with this epidemic, and I want to underline the hard work that’s being done in the Senate to address it.

“The Chairs of the Judiciary and HELP Committees, whom I recognized earlier, have been looking at ways to both improve law enforcement tools and increase education and awareness respectively.

“The Chair of the Finance Committee has, as his committee explored in a hearing last week, been focused on how this issue affects our child welfare system.

“And of course we again recognize the cooperation of members in both parties — chairs, ranking members, and a bipartisan list of sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

“Working together, across the aisle — with state and local governments, agencies, and law enforcement — we can help end this crisis once and for all. I look forward to taking the next step toward that objective today.”

Related Issues: Opioid Abuse