Senate approves conference report of major opioid, heroin addiction bill co-authored by Ayotte, Portman

The Senate adopted the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), S. 524, conference report with bipartisan support on Wednesday, which marks the first time Congress has supported long-term addiction recovery.

The bill now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CARA, which was co-authored by U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), also marks the first time in decades that Congress has approved comprehensive addiction 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,” Portman said. “Thanks to valuable input from law enforcement, doctors, advocates, patients in recovery, and drug experts in the administration, CARA will help save lives, and help more Americans achieve their God-given potential. And I want to thank Sens. Whitehouse, Ayotte and Klobuchar for their leadership and partnership on this important issue.”

The final version of the bill would address the nation’s addiction crisis by establishing new programs to treat and prevent addiction and to support individuals who are in recovery.

The bill includes provisions led by Ayotte that would improve treatment for women who are pregnant or postpartum and would develop best practices for pain management.

“Today marks a critical turning point for the New Hampshire families, advocacy groups, first responders and all other stakeholders who have worked tirelessly to get CARA passed with overwhelming support,” Ayotte said. “This important legislation will bring a comprehensive approach to the opioid abuse epidemic and authorizes resources for treatment, prevention, recovery and first responders, as well as makes important policy changes that will better assist those who are struggling. I have also been proud to consistently call for and support the significant funding increases approved by the Appropriations Committee for initiatives that align with the evidenced-based programs outlined in CARA. I urge the president to immediately sign this bill into law so we can get these critical resources to New Hampshire.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) led two amendments that would encourage the National Institutes of Health to increase research into opioid alternatives for pain management and require states to develop plans for drug-dependent infants before they leave the hospital.

“Maine has been particularly hard hit by this unprecedented addiction crisis, with a record 272 overdose deaths in 2015, the vast majority of which were caused by heroin, fentanyl or prescription opioids,” Collins said. “In addition, a recent survey found that 60 percent of Mainers know someone who has either used heroin or abused prescribed opiate painkillers within the past five years. CARA will help address this burgeoning public health crisis through a multifaceted approach that expands treatment, prevention, law enforcement, and recovery efforts in our communities nationwide.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) also led a number of provisions that were included in the final conference report, including making follow-up services for those who receive opioid overdose reversal drugs an allowable use of grant funding, requiring the attorney general to expand the availability of disposal sites for unwanted prescription drugs, providing more effective pain management to veterans, allowing for the partial fill of opioid painkillers, and convening a Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force.

“We can all agree that the drug epidemic is crushing American communities and it has to stop,” Capito said. “This is especially true in West Virginia, where we have the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in overdose deaths. I have worked tirelessly with my colleagues in the Senate, with health and law enforcement professionals in West Virginia, and with individual families and advocates to develop a spectrum of solutions to curb this epidemic. This bill reflects those efforts and includes several provisions that will bring us closer to reversing this trend. I urge the president to swiftly sign this critical legislation in to law.”

Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL) that would expand access to the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone was also included in the bill. Dold’s legislation, Lali’s Law, was named in memory of Alex Laliberte, a college student from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, who died from an overdose seven years ago.

“Working with the Laliberte family from Buffalo Grove, we wrote and passed Lali’s Law to help save lives and spare families from the pain of losing a child,” Dold said. “Passing our bill with overwhelming bipartisan support is a perfect example of what we can achieve when we set aside partisan differences to help families. Together, we’ve ensured that Alex’s lasting legacy includes helping others get a second chance at recovery and saving their families from heartbreak.”

Speaking in support of the bill, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) said that too many families across the country have been torn apart by heroin and prescription drug abuse.

“In Nebraska, arrests and overdoses associated with these drugs have become a serious problem,” Fischer said. “Today, Congress has come together and passed significant, bipartisan legislation to empower states and local communities to fight this crisis. I hope the president will quickly sign this bill so we can start saving lives and help heal our nation.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the Senate’s approval of the conference report meant that help would soon be on the way for communities that are suffering.

“We have an urgent problem, and the House and Senate came together, on a bipartisan basis, and got the job done,” Upton said. “I am hopeful that President Obama will follow Congress’ lead and soon sign this package into law. Lives are at stake, and this critical legislation will help make a difference across Michigan and in every community in America.”

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