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Mikulski Praises Addiction Legislation

March 10th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today applauded Senate passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bipartisan bill to combat and stem the tide of prescription opioid and heroin abuse that has been tearing apart our communities. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 94 to 1.

“Heroin use and opioid abuse is ravaging our communities and ripping apart our communities. In 2014, drug overdoses caused over 47,000 deaths in our country, including over 1,000 Marylanders,” Senator Mikulski said. “This bipartisan bill will authorize grant programs to address this national epidemic and direct HHS to start an inter-agency task force to develop best practices for prescribing pain medication. As Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have fought and will continue fighting to put funds in the federal checkbook to combat this opioid and heroin abuse in Maryland and across America.”

In 2014, there were 578 heroin-related deaths and 1,070 drug-overdose deaths in Maryland alone. In the City of Baltimore, 303 people died from drug and alcohol overdoses. Today, more than 60,000 Baltimore residents are addicted to opioids.

As Vice Chairwoman on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski put funds in the federal checkbook to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse in Maryland and across America including $2.45 billion for the Drug Enforcement Agency, who targets and dismantles criminal narcotics activities and regulates and combats prescription drug abuse, $7 million for Department of Justice anti-heroin task forces, $12 million for Residential Drug Treatment grants, $13 million for Prescription Drug Monitoring grants and $42 million for Drug Courts. Additionally, Senator Mikulski fought to secure funding for treatment and recovery of substance abuse disorders, including instituting some new programs, including $70 million for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention program (more than triple the FY 15 level), $12 million for new Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grants to equip first responders with overdose-prevention drugs, $5.6 million for new CDC funding for heroin surveillance, $10 million for new SAMHSA funding to promote prevention strategies and $25 million for SAMHSA Medication-Assisted Treatment programs.

As then-Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she fought to secure $441 million in federal funds in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 for anti-heroin activities at the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services and at the White House. These federal dollars were used to fund grants to states and local law enforcement to investigate and arrest those selling heroin and illegal prescription drugs and reduce drug trafficking. It provided funds to states for prescription drug monitoring programs, so states can better monitor and track those offenders who are doctor shopping or otherwise abusing prescription drugs. It also ensured states got the money they need to expand medication-assisted treatment and purchase Naloxone, which saves lives by rapidly reversing the effects of a heroin overdose.

Senator Mikulski’s statement, as submitted for the Congressional Record, follows:

“Mr. President, I am in strong support of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and its supplemental funding amendment. I have to say, I wish we weren’t in this position today. I wish we didn’t have a persistent and growing drug epidemic in this country that is ravaging our communities and tearing apart our families.

“The issue of opioid abuse and heroin addiction is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an American issue. It touches every corner of our society: wealthy, middle class, and poor; rural, urban, and suburban; moms, dads, children, and grandchildren; our friends, and our neighbors.

“It is devastating that today more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than from car accidents. In looking at the facts, there are two things we can point our finger to: prescription opioid painkillers and heroin. Prescription opioids are increasingly to blame for overdose deaths. These drugs include hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine, to name a few. Their numbers are hard to believe – in 2014, 6.5 million Americans over the age of 12 abused controlled substance medications. The second factor, heroin, is even worse in what it’s done to our nation. Heroin use has increased 79 percent nationwide in just five years.

“These two factors are connected. When people are injured and prescribed painkillers, what is given as help for pain can easily become an addiction. These painkillers are frequently and liberally distributed by medical practitioners for all kinds of issues – acute pain, PTSD, recovery from surgery, recovery from accidents, the list goes on.

“However, when those prescriptions run out but the addiction has already set in, people turn to heroin for their fix. Why heroin?  Heroin provides similar effects to the drugs they’re already taking, is highly addictive and readily available on the street. It’s also incredibly inexpensive – $10 or less for a hit. When you have something like that at your disposal, it’s not hard to see how people can continue their addictions to the point of dying.

“Every day, 120 Americans are dying as a result of drug overdoses. It’s time to take a hard look at what we can do to fight back and stop these drugs from taking over our communities. I look to my home state as a prime example.

“In my home state, we recognize that heroin and opioid abuse are serious problems that must be addressed. In recent years, deaths from heroin have risen 88 percent. In 2014 alone in Maryland, we had 578 heroin-related deaths and 1,070 drug-overdose deaths. This problem reaches to the far ends of my state.

“I met a woman on the Eastern Shore of Maryland who lost everything when one of her family members became addicted to opioids. He resorted to stealing from his family and their family store, and they ended up declaring for bankruptcy because of his addiction and the consequences of it. They lost everything due to one member’s addiction, and I can’t imagine the strength it took to try to put their family back together after all that.

“We have all heard stories of friends, neighbors, and family that have faced addiction. Some have lost that battle, some have made it to recovery and continue to fight every day. There are examples everywhere in our community of both those who have lost their fight and those who, with the help of family and community, have put their lives back together.

“When thinking of this problem in Maryland, many people’s minds go directly to Baltimore. I can understand why – Baltimore was once characterized as the ‘heroin capital’ of the U.S. It, too, has battled this problem for too many years, with insufficient results to show. In 2014 alone in Baltimore, 303 people died from drug and alcohol overdose. That’s more than the number of people who died from homicide.

“Today in Baltimore, we have 60,000 people addicted to opioids. That’s one in every 10 residents of the city. Baltimore has the highest rate of heroin addiction in the country, and many more who are abusing prescription opioid medication. While people like Dr. Leana Wen, the Director of the Baltimore City Department of Health, have been actively taking steps to turn the tide, there are many more out there who would see this problem continue so they can profit off of it.

“But this problem is not just about Baltimore, nor is it just about drug addiction. Widespread addiction leads to other problems in society. Addicts commit crime to get money in order to get drugs, like theft and fraud. Gangs are trafficking and selling these drugs to those who haven’t been able to quit. The worst of our society is brought out because of these drugs and their effects, and those effects are being seen in every corner of my state and every level of society.

“As I’ve traveled around Maryland meeting with County Executives, every single one talked about the problem of heroin and opioid abuse. Both Republicans and Democrats have told me time and time again – they can’t solve this problem themselves. They have asked me to help. They need multiple resources to fight. They need everyone standing up saying, ‘Enough is enough!’ It’s time to take back our communities, and we can start with this bill and its supplemental funding.

“This bill does five things that I think will really help us start going in a more positive direction. First, it expands prevention and educational efforts to prevent opioid abuse and promote treatment and recovery. Second, it expands the availability of life-saving options to provide for first responders and law enforcement to save lives and reverse overdoses. Third, the bill expands the resources to treat those already in prison who are suffering from addiction, and look at alternatives to incarceration for those arrested with substance abuse issues. Fourth, it strengthens programs to monitor prescription drugs to cut down their widespread misuse, and expands disposal sites for unwanted medication to keep it out of the hands of our children. Last, it creates an interagency task force with experts in all fields to look at the best practices for prescribing painkillers.

“I would like to add that I also support the Shaheen supplemental funding amendment. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is the authorizing bill here. It makes the promises for services to help Americans in need through education, prevention and treatment across geographical and economic lines. The Shaheen supplemental amendment is the appropriations that cuts the check for the services. It is tailored to the bill, providing $240 million to the Department of Justice and $360 million to the Department of Health and Human Services. Both the bill and its amendment are needed to get help to Americans and to Marylanders who don’t have the resources to solve these problems on their own.

“We can’t enforce our way out of this, and this bill recognizes that. We must look at it from the standpoint of addiction and mental health services as well. The impact that addiction has had on our society has created an urgent and desperate situation. Both this bill and its funding need to be passed immediately.

“As Chair and Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, I have fought very hard to get funding in the federal checkbook to help combat this epidemic. Through a bipartisan effort in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Omnibus, we were able to secure record funds to combat drug abuse and provide services to Americans.

“As Vice Chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee, cracking down was a priority in the omnibus bill. We provided $2.45 billion for the Drug Enforcement Agency, who targets and dismantles criminal narcotics activities and regulates and combats prescription drug abuse. This was a $52 million increase over FY 2015.

“The Department of Justice received $7 million for anti-heroin task forces, $12 million for Residential Drug Treatment grants, $13 million for Prescription Drug Monitoring grants and $42 million for Drug Courts.

“Additionally, we were able to allocate significant funds for treatment and recovery of substance abuse disorders, including instituting some new programs. Funds include: $70 million for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention program (more than triple the FY 15 level), $12 million for new Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grants to equip first responders with overdose-prevention drugs, $5.6 million for new CDC funding for heroin surveillance, $10 million for new SAMHSA funding to promote prevention strategies and $25 million for SAMHSA Medication-Assisted Treatment programs.

“We recognize that our veterans can suffer more than most in opioid abuse, whether from injuries sustained in combat or mental health issues when they return. In further protecting our veterans, we added reforms at the Veterans Administration. These include: adopting the CDC guidelines for safe opioid prescriptions for chronic pain, protections against double-prescribing, establishing a working group focused on opioid therapy, ensuring all facilities are prepared with opioid blocking drugs and providing training to all employees that prescribe controlled substances.

“Lastly, we required a multi-agency report on heroin from the Department of Justice and 25 other federal agencies. This report included recommendations and best practices for combatting this crisis in our country. These experts said that there is hope to mitigate the issue, but that law enforcement and public health must work together to educate and intervene with effective treatments. They gave us a road map to take action, and several of their recommendations can be found in this bill.

“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is a first step toward stemming the tide of the harm that opioids and heroin have wreaked on our country. Along with the appropriations supplemental from Senator Shaheen, it will provide immediate action and a comprehensive response. Unfortunately, my colleagues voted against this amendment, meaning we have to wait another day to put money for these expanded services in the federal checkbook.

“This bill recognizes that the problem won’t be solved just by the federal government or local governments acting alone. We must come together with a multi-pronged solution working on all levels of government and including our allies in the public and private sector.

“We all share the same goal in this instance. We must do more and do better to reduce prescription drug abuse, to help those struggling with addiction, to keep heroin and opioids out of the hands of children, to stop those who are trafficking and selling these dangerous drugs, and to better train and equip those on the front lines of this battle to save lives. I urge the adoption of this bill and I pledge to do my best to provide the federal funding needed in the appropriations bills for FY 2017.”

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