A compromise bill aimed at curbing the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, while well-intentioned, seems to fall short of affecting real change.
Congress sent S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA), to President Obama on Wednesday.
The legislation creates grants and other programs aimed at addressing drug abuse, especially heroin and opioids. It also provides for the establishment of an inter-agency task force to look at, modify and update prescription pain management practices.
But Democrats complained the election-year bill does not include money to pay for its programs.
“This legislation contains a lot of good proposals to help us combat our country’s opioid and heroin epidemic, but makes no investment in making the programs we’ve authorized today a reality,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “Without any funding for these programs, these proposals are just well-intentioned words on paper.”
That being said, Carper said it was better to back the measure and push for more money in future spending bills.
“By providing robust funding for the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services in the appropriations process, they can do the work we’ve asked of them and help save the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that we make the investments needed to address this crisis,” Carper said.
In a statement, the White House said Obama would sign the bill, while echoing disappointment that CARA failed to provide significant money to deal with the epidemic.
“Some action is better than none,” the White House said, but Obama “won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands. Congressional Republicans have not done their jobs until they provide the funding for treatment that communities need to combat this epidemic.”
Attacking the addiction
Attack Addiction is a Delaware nonprofit whose mission is to combat addiction through education and to provide support to families and to those in recovery.
Dave Humes is a leading member with the group. His son Gregory died of a heroin overdose. He said the legislation creates further awareness about the disease of addiction, but, “Without funding, Congress is only paying lip service to the epidemic.”
He added, “Not one Delawarean and a few (if any) American citizens have died of the Ebola epidemic. There was no Ebola epidemic, yet it was funded. While the Zika virus is another potential epidemic few have died or been affected. This potential Zika epidemic has been funded. In less than 15 months from today we will lose more Americans to overdose than were lost in the entire Vietnam War.”
The nationwide epidemic is said to kill more than 100 Americans every day. Statistics from the Centers for Disease show more than 47,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2014, up from 43,000 in 2013, and double the number from 2000.
The government has estimated that more than 2 million Americans have opioid abuse problems, and nearly 500,000 more are heroin addicts.
Addiction to those drugs crosses racial, economic and geographic lines, often times starting when patients are prescribed opioiods to manage pain.
“We need to do much more and provide necessary funding to end the opiate/heroin epidemic,” Humes said.