Lawmakers unite to fight heroin epidemic across US


Given that the crisis in the U.S. of opiate abuse has soared to epidemic heights, it is encouraging that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill united in a rare show of bipartisanship this month to adopt a multi-pronged comprehensive package of assistance to stem its deadly tide.

About four months ago, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and others introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in response to the heroin scourge rocketing out of control in the Buckeye State and the nation.

The praiseworthy legislation creates grants and other programs aimed at addressing opiate abuse, especially heroin. It contains more resources for long-term addiction treatment, prevention and education, alternative sentencing options, drug courts, expanded availability of the overdose antidote naloxone and for development of new and stricter guidelines for prescribing opiates.

Among the most significant provisions is a measure to allow more health-care providers to administer medication- assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Under current federal law, doctors can treat only 100 patients at a time with buprenorphine, one of the most effective opioid addiction medicines.

CARA will allow others – including nurse practitioners and physician assistants – to provide buprenorphine to addicts seeking recovery, thereby greatly expanding the sphere of treatment opportunities.

“This is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery,” said Portman, a chief author of the legislation. “This is also the first time that we’ve treated addiction like the disease that it is, which will help put an end to the stigma that has surrounded addiction for too long.”

ACT QUICKLY ON FUNDING

With so much good going for the bill, it is disappointing that CARA could not wind its way completely through the appropriations process to release the $180 million in annual funding for the measure before senators and representatives darted out of D.C. for their summer recess.

Also unfortunate was the refusal to buttress funding levels so the bill could have more teeth and impact. The administration of President Barack Obama and others had pleaded to increase funding levels to about $1.1 billion.

A spokesman for Obama said the levels of funding merely pays “lip service” to the epidemic and “falls woefully short of Congress’ basic responsibility.”

We’d prefer to view the measure as a serious starting point for heightened federal assistance to lessen the scope of the heroin plague that is destroying lives in record numbers across the Mahoning Valley and throughout the U.S.A.

As such, priority No. 1 for federal lawmakers when they return in September must be to put the CARA on the fast funding track. Then, they should earnestly work – as many have promised – to shore up additional resources for fighting the war on heroin in the fiscal year 2017 federal budget, which takes effect in October.

But despite those caveats, passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act represents one solid achievement by a Congress best known for failure, inaction and acrimony. Let’s hope that this bipartisan success will spread to other stalled but pressing public-policy priorities on the congressional back burner.

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