Ayotte, Shaheen urge Senate to approve funding to fight opioid crisis
While the long-term CARA bill has been gaining bipartisan support, Shaheen’s amendment seeking $600 million in immediate funding for the drug crisis has run into some opposition.
CARA authorizes government agencies to spend money on anti-heroin programs, but doesn’t provide more money, since Congress in December passed a spending bill with $400 million in funding for the opioid crisis. Nearly $80 million of that is linked to CARA.
But Shaheen and Ayotte are working to convince fellow senators that both CARA and Shaheen’s amendment are needed to properly fund the fight to save thousands of American lives. Shaheen is a co-sponor of CARA and Ayotte is a co-sponsor of Shaheen’s emergency spending bill.
“CARA will help fight the heroin and opioid epidemic in the longer term. But I urge my colleagues to also support this amendment because it will provide urgent emergency funding to ramp up this fight in the months immediately ahead,” Shaheen said. “Last year, we appropriated $5.4 billion to combat ebola in West Africa, that killed one American. Surely we can come together now, this year, in this session, to fight a raging epidemic right here at home.”
A one-two punch
Ayotte and Shaheen opened Senate debate like a pair of attorneys prosecuting a high-profile case, with Ayotte taking the floor first and focusing on the personal stories of New Hampshire residents.
“Behind the statistics and behind the headlines we see every day in the news, there are family members, friends and communities that have been deeply impacted by this public health crisis,” said Ayotte, as she spoke of constituents who lost loved ones or are struggling themselves in the grip of addiction.
Shaheen focused on the numbers behind the stories, with charts and color-coded maps showing the dramatic increase in overdose deaths and the link to excessive prescription of opioid-based painkillers.
“Of 1.3 million people in New Hampshire, it’s estimated that 100,000, almost 10 percent, are currently seeking treatment for substance abuse disorders,” she said, “and we can offer services to only a small fraction of that total.”
VIDEO: Ayotte and Shaheen speak on legislation aimed at combatting the opioid crisis:
She cited a 90 percent increase in heroin addicts seeking treatment in the past decade, and a 500 percent increase in demand for treatment to overcome addiction to prescription painkillers.
“This is a nationwide crisis, and it’s time we mobilize a nationwide response that is equal to the challenge,” she said.
Outcome hard to predict
A Senate vote on the Shaheen amendment could come with a vote on CARA by Thursday, but with election-year politics at play, it’s difficult to predict the timing or outcome of either initiative.
Ayotte and Shaheen have both written to the Secretary of Health and Human Services asking her to formally designate the opioid addiction crisis a national public health emergency.
“We have an opportunity … to act now,” Ayotte said. “We owe it to all those who have lost their lives, their families who have been impacted and those who are struggling with addiction, the first responders in our communities, and the people who are working hard to turn this around in New Hampshire and across this country.”
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