March 11, 2016

Lawmakers praise passage of bill aiding battle against growing opioid epidemic | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — Calling the problem a “national emergency,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) said passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is a “good first step” in tackling a growing crisis.

The bill passed by an overwhelming margin, 94-1, in the Senate Thursday, and earmarks more than $300 million over five years in federal grants to state and local programs aimed at strengthening treatment for addicts and expanding prevention efforts.

Capito said Thursday afternoon the drug addiction problem crosses all socio-economic lines, is pervasive and has grown quickly and “unexpectedly” in recent years.

Statistics back up her statement.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014.

Opioid addiction drove the epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin.

Heroin deaths have increased by 37 percent per year from 2010 to 2013, the report said.

Capito said West Virginia leads the nation in drug-related overdose deaths, more than twice the national average.

A report released earlier this month showed there were 33.5 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in West Virginia from 2010 to 2013. The national average was 13.4 deaths per 100,000 population.

The priority now, she said, is to provide resources to handle this epidemic through treatment and recovery programs.

The money from this bill will reinforce already existing drug treatment and recovery programs, she said, like Community Connections in Mercer County.

“Local people already have good ideas and local coalitions,” she said. “We can build on that in the communities.”

But much more needs to be done, she added.

“We still have issues to address,” she said, including over prescribing of pain medications, a shortage of available treatment options, supply side of illegal drug importation and more treatment options rather than incarceration for addicts.

“For me, I am still going to be looking for treatment options for pregnant women who are addicted and for their babies, who are born addicted,” she said.

Capito also wants to see action on prescriptions of opioids that would only be partially filled to reduce the volume of drugs in medicine cabinets that serve as an enticement “to steal and sell.”

“The medical community has to be a part of this solution as well,” she said, adding that she supports Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-West Virginia) push to require more intense training for medical providers on safely prescribing drugs.

How the criminal justice system deals with addicts is another arena Capito is studying.

“There is a big movement from the right and the left to look at criminal justice reform for first-time drug offenders and users,” she said. “I am taking a look at it because it’s very comprehensive. We would be better off treating them because it’s more expensive to incarcerate and then see them end up getting out and breaking the law again.”

The treatment option is in the end more cost-effective and helps families of the addicts in the process, she said.

Drug courts are another positive aspect of dealing with the problem, she said, and the bill does help with those.

Capito has plenty of support from her fellow senators from the Virginias.

“The Senate’s passage of CARA is a good first step in our fight to end the opioid epidemic, but more needs to be done,” Manchin said in a statement after the vote Wednesday. “I am glad that my consumer education amendment to ensure that advocacy groups have access to funds they need to raise awareness about the risks of opioid addiction and overdose was included in the final bill. Unfortunately, that is just one step in the fight to stem this epidemic. We need to fight this epidemic on all fronts.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) praised the passage of the act.

“Across Virginia, we continue to see the tragic consequences of opioid abuse on our communities,” he said in a statement. “I hear from parents who lost children to overdoses, law enforcement officers who face increased drug-related crimes and people coping with addiction who struggle to get help. Their stories led me to fight this epidemic at the federal level and we saw today that there is a strong consensus in the Senate that we must act.”

 “Prescription drug and heroin abuse is devastating families and communities across the commonwealth,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) after the vote. “We need to improve treatment for individuals who are suffering from addiction, but also strengthen programs that teach prevention.”

Warner said the bill not only focuses on treatment and prevention, but also recognizes the reality of this “dire situation” by expanding access to overdose-reversal drugs (Naxolene) for first-responders.

“While this is a good step forward, I hope Congress can continue to work together in a bipartisan way to ensure that this bill is fully funded so we can save lives and end this epidemic,” he said.

The bill now goes to the Houses and is expected to again receive widespread partisan support.

 It would also authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award as much as $413 million in grants over the 2017 to 2021 period through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Source: By Charles Boothe