Overdoses from heroin, prescription drugs, and opioid pain relievers last year surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deaths have reached their highest levels of the 21st century in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin overdoses have more than tripled in the last five years, an issue receiving outsize attention nationally but especially during the presidential campaign season as New Hampshire has been one of the hardest-hit states.
New legislation aims to tackle this epidemic. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, S. 524 and H.R. 953, was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI5) and will receive a hearing on Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This appears to be one of the few political issues with potential bipartisan agreement. The Senate version has 17 Democrat and eight Republican co-sponsors while the House version has 53 Democrats and 21 Republicans. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has proposed a $10 billion plan to combat the problem, while Republican candidates including Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina have all shared personal stories about family and friend experiences with overdose.
As detailed in a press release by Whitehouse, the legislation would:
Expand the availability of naloxone — which can counter the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose — to law enforcement agencies and other first responders
Improve prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion “and to help at-risk individuals access services,” because inefficiencies and loopholes in the current programs allow many individuals to game the system and obtain more drugs than they should
Shift resources towards identifying and treating incarcerated people who are suffering from addiction, rather than just punishment as is often the case currently
Prohibit the Department of Education from including questions about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) financial aid form
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) advocated the bill in last week’s Weekly Republican Address: ““This legislation is moving and that’s good. There is an urgency to this issue — Congress must act now to help repair our communities, our families and our country. CARA — this comprehensive approach — will help more Americans put their lives back together and help individuals achieve their God-given potential.”
No Member of Congress appears to have expressed outright opposition to this bill. It sits at the intersection of criminal justice reform and mental health legislation, two of the three policy areas which House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI1) claimed could pass both the Republican Congress and Democratic president this year. However, its chances of passage may lessen depending on political considerations such as the potential for bipartisan cooperation in an election year — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced last week that he may not take up any substantive legislation in 2016.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 12, 2015.
Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015
Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to convene a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to develop: (1) best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, and (2) a strategy for disseminating such best practices.
Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to authorize the Attorney General to make grants to:
states (with priority to states that provide civil liability protection for first responders, health professionals, and family members administering naloxone to counteract opioid overdoses), local governments, and nonprofit organizations to expand educational efforts to prevent abuse of opioids, heroin, and other substances of abuse, understand addiction as a chronic disease, and promote treatment and recovery; organizations that have received a grant under the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997 to implement comprehensive community-wide strategies that address local drug crises; states (with priority to states that provide civil liability protection for administering naloxone), local governments, Indian tribes, and nonprofit organizations for treatment alternative to incarceration programs for individuals who have come into contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system or have been arrested or charged with an offense, who have a substance use disorder, mental illness, or both, and who have been approved for participation in such a program; state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies to create a demonstration law enforcement program to prevent opioid and heroin overdose death; state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies, manufacturers, distributors, or reverse distributor of prescription medications, retail pharmacies, registered narcotic treatment programs, hospitals or clinics with an on-site pharmacy, eligible long-term care facilities, or any other entity authorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration to dispose of prescription medications to expand or make available disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications; states (with priority to states that provide civil liability protection for administering naloxone), local governments, and Indian tribes to implement medication assisted treatment programs through their criminal justice agencies; states, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and Indian tribes for educational programs for incarcerated offenders; state substance abuse and criminal justice agencies, jointly, to address the use of opioids and heroin among pregnant and parenting female offenders in a state to promote public safety, public health, family permanence, and well-being; establish or expand veterans treatment court programs, peer to peer services or programs for qualified veterans, practices that identify and provide treatment, rehabilitation, legal, and transitional services to incarcerated veterans, and training programs to teach criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse personnel how to identify and appropriately respond to incidents involving veterans; and states to prepare a comprehensive plan for and implement an integrated opioid abuse response initiative. Amends the Public Health Service Act to authorize the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to award grants to enable state substance abuse agencies, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and Indian tribes or tribal organizations that have a high rate of, or have had a rapid increase in, the use of heroin or other opioids to expand activities, including medication assisted treatment, for the treatment of addiction in the geographical areas affected.
Authorizes the Recovery Branch of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to award grants to: (1) enable high schools and colleges with substance abuse recovery programs and nonprofit organizations to provide substance abuse recovery support services to high school and college students, to help build communities of support for young people in recovery, and to encourage initiatives designed to help young people achieve and sustain recovery; and (2) enable recovery community organizations to develop, expand, and enhance recovery services.
Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit the Department of Education from including any question about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.
Directs HHS to establish a bipartisan Task Force on Recovery and Collateral Consequences to: (1) identify collateral consequences for individuals with drug convictions who are in recovery for a substance use disorder, and (2) determine whether such consequences unnecessarily delay such individuals from resuming their personal and professional activities.
Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act to direct the Attorney General to report annually on how grants awarded under such Act are used for family-based substance abuse treatment programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration for custodial parents to receive treatment and services as a family.
Expresses the sense of Congress that the amounts expended to carry out this Act should be offset by a corresponding reduction in federal non-defense discretionary spending.
Directs the Comptroller General to report on the impact that the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease exclusion (defined as the prohibition on federal matching payments under Medicaid for patients who have attained age 22, but have not attained age 65, in an institution for mental diseases) has on access to treatment for individuals with a substance use disorder.