Jul 13, 2016 10:45 PM
NH1 News Political Director
Despite a partisan fight over funding, a sweeping bill aimed at helping New Hampshire and other states fight back against the heroin and opioid epidemic is on its way to becoming law.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, better known by its acronym CARA, overwhelming passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday night by a 92 to 2 vote. The measure, which passed the House by an equally lopsided vote last week, is now headed to the White House, which says President Obama will sign the legislation into law.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte was one of the four co-authors of the original bill, which the Senate passed by a landslide vote in March. In an interview with NH1 News a couple of hours before the bill won final approval in the Senate, Ayotte called the measure “really important,” adding that “it’s something that I worked on for over two years. It’s very bipartisan.”
New Hampshire’s Republican senator co-authored the bill with fellow GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, as well as Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
In a statement, 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.”
The measure also promotes alternatives jail time for those with substance-abuse problems, and expands first-responder access to naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. And the bill allows more health-care providers to administer medication to fight opioid addiction.
While the initial Senate vote in March, as well as last week’s House passage and Wednesday’s final passage in the Senate were bipartisan, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the funding of the bill to expand addiction treatment and prevention programs.
Congressional Democrats touted the substance of the bill, but argued that without the federal funds to back up the measure, it would be more symbolic than affective. Last week a push by Democrats to add more than $900 million in new funding for CARA was defeated by Republicans, who argue that increased spending should be dealt with separately, when Congress takes up the annual spending bills.
President Barack Obama had pushed for even more funding, asking Congress for $1.1 billion in the White House budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
“While the President will sign this bill once it reaches his desk because some action is better than none, he 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. The President and Administration officials will continue to press Republicans to respond to this crisis,” the White House said in a statement following the Senate’s final passage of CARA.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who signed onto the bill, said “CARA is good bipartisan legislation that sets the country in the right direction but it doesn’t address the immediate need for funding first responders and treatment programs in our communities.”
“Without funding, Congress is offering a life preserver with no air in it. As written, CARA-related funding would likely reach New Hampshire in two years, and as any police officer or treatment provider in New Hampshire can tell you, they desperately need these resources today. I will continue to call on Congress to rise to meet this challenge and appropriate emergency funding as it has done in previous health emergencies,” New Hampshire’s two-term Democratic senator added in a statement.
Ayotte: ‘Going to continue to fight’ for funding
Ayotte told NH1 News that she agrees that more funding is needed.
“I’m going to continue to fight. I’ve supported efforts along with Sen. Shaheen for emergency funding for the heroin epidemic. So we’ll continue to fight for that and build on the funding that has already been allocated that Is double over prior years, to get that to New Hampshire.”
But Ayotte added that “already the money from last year’s appropriations bill has come down to the state and is still being distributed by the state level. So getting the money here quickly is a priority.”
“We’ll move this as quickly as we can and I’ve asked Health and Human Services to expedite that funding and I’ll continue to do that,” Ayotte added.
Ayotte also said the CARA bill isn’t the end of the fight.
“There’s a lot more work to be done to turn this around and I know that this is a huge public health crisis in New Hampshire. I’m going to continue to do everything I can, not only passing this legislation today, but continuing to fight to make sure that we support all the efforts on the ground in New Hampshire to turn this around,” Ayotte told NH1 News.
Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, was one of the leaders of the push to pass CARA through the U.S. House of Representatives.
“While I remain disappointed that this legislation did not include emergency funding to address the epidemic, the funding authorizations and programs it does include are vital to the success of our efforts to stop the opioid epidemic. As the co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, I pushed for passage of CARA, and I look forward to working with local communities in New Hampshire to help them take advantage of the new programs contained in this bill to increase access to treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts,” Kuster said in a statement.
Gov. Maggie Hassan also weighed in on the passage of CARA. New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, who’s challenging Ayotte this year in one of the most high profile, expensive and negative Senate battles in the country, praised the bill but also criticized a lack of funding for the measure.
"As Vice Chair of the National Governors Association Health and Human Services Committee, I have worked with my fellow Governors in urging federal action to support states as we work to combat the heroin and opioid crisis with a comprehensive strategy to support law enforcement and strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts,” Hassan wrote.
“The federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act reflects some of the priorities that we have pushed for with the National Governors Association, and I am glad to see bipartisan recognition of the need to address the issue, but that must be backed up by emergency federal funds, which unfortunately Congress has failed to do. Here in New Hampshire, we have worked across party lines to provide additional resources to those battling this horrible epidemic on the front lines, and we need Washington to do the same,” she added.
Numbers released earlier this week from New Hampshire's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner indicate that at least 161 people have fatally overdosed so far this year. The report projects at least 494 overdose deaths by the end of 2016.
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