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Mar 10, 2016 3:20 PM

Steinhauser: Bill to fight heroin abuse sails through U.S. Senate as fight over funding continues

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Sen. Kelly Ayotte says a bill overwhelming passed by the U.S. Senate to help in the fight against opioid abuse “is important legislation for New Hampshire and the country.”

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, known as CARA, passed 94-1 in the Senate on Thursday.

In an interview with NH1 News minutes after the legislation sailed through the chamber, New Hampshire’s Republican senator said the bill would focus “on prevention, treatment, support for our first responders to deal with the heroin epidemic and the fentanyl that is killing people in our state.”

But there was a lack of funding tied to the measure, which Democrats bemoaned.

“Any police officer or treatment provider in New Hampshire can tell they desperately need resources today. CARA is good legislation that will help fight the heroin pandemic in the long term. However, without real dollars behind this bill, it’s the equivalent of offering a life preserver with no air in it,” wrote Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a statement.

“The Senate must rise to meet this challenge as it has done in previous health emergencies. There is simply no excuse for Congress providing emergency funding for the Ebola and ‘swine flu’ epidemics, while ignoring an opioid crisis that’s killing a person a day in the Granite State. My emergency funding legislation will save lives, and I will seek out every opportunity to pass it,” added the Granite State’s Democratic senator.

Shaheen was referencing an amendment that she proposed that would have included $600 million in emergency funding. Last week the measure failed to win the 60 votes needed. While Ayotte supported the amendment, it was opposed by most Senate Republicans.

“Obviously I supported that amendment, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t pass. I would have liked for it to pass. That said, we’re going to fight for more funding through the appropriations process,” Ayotte told NH1 News.

Ayotte explained that “with the end-of-the-year spending bill, there was a 284% increase that went to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)” that she says “hasn’t been dispersed yet.”

“I’ve asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to get that money as soon as possible to New Hampshire to make sure that we get that to the efforts that are on-going in our nonprofit community with the state, for more prevention, for more treatment capacity. We know that because too many people are dying in our state,” Ayotte added.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives. And Ayotte says lobbying efforts are already underway.

“I’m absolutely lobbying. In fact I’m starting today with a call to the Speaker of the House. I’m going to ask him to bring this legislation forward. It has over 90 sponsors in the House of Representatives. So strong bipartisan support. And this is a very thoughtful piece of legislation. We brought together over 100 stakeholder groups, strong support from the law enforcement community. This is really one that the House should take up right away, and I hope they’ll do that,” Ayotte said.

If the bill does become law, Ayotte says it "will effect on the ground in New Hampshire because it has an education prevention campaign, more support for education and treatment, support for our prescription monitoring programs because of the relationship of the over prescription of drugs and heroin, more support for Narcan and first responders."

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