Politicians have neglected America's alcohol and drug abuse problems for far too long. I started a non-profit social services agency decades ago, and addiction was a huge factor in casework at that time. Of course, it has gotten worse, and politicians must act now.
In Congress, I actively worked on these issues:
- I was a member of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus and began serving as Vice Co-Chair in 2009.
- I helped pass Medicaid expansion, which made treatment accessible for 6,000 people in New Hampshire, as part of the Affordable Care Act.
- In 2010, I wrote legislation, the Safe Prescription Drug Disposal and Education Act, to provide for the safe disposal of prescription opioids and for grants to communities for classes on prescription drug abuse for children and parents, educating them on the dangers of prescription drug abuse and how to prevent it.
- In 2014, I was an original cosponsor of the Opioid Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which would require Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants to states to develop ways to identify and investigate inappropriate prescribing and dispensing of addictive prescription drugs through review of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP). It also would require HHS to encourage states and local governments to increase opportunities for disposal of opiates and to reduce opportunities for opiate abuse.
- I also was an original cosponsor of the Stop Overdose Stat (SOS) Act, which would provide federal support for state overdose prevention programs, and I rallied support by asking the Food & Drug Administration to make the overdose drug naloxone (Narcan) available to our first responders and the public.
The severity of the current problem requires us to take action now for addiction prevention and treatment, and to interrupt the supply of drugs.
Prevention and Treatment
Opioid abuse has reached crisis levels, and we need to deal with it by increasing funding for substance abuse disorder treatments, including medication-assisted treatment. Congress needs to do its job and pass the emergency funding that’s needed to implement the new treatment and grant programs created this summer. Without this funding, states like New Hampshire will not be able to move forward to increase treatment and recovery services capacity. We need more providers that can dispense withdrawal prevention drugs.
It’s especially important to help physicians monitor and control opioid prescriptions and to stop people struggling with addiction from “doctor shopping.” We must also have a robust education program to warn people about the hazards of legal and illegal addictive drugs, and it has to start early. Educators and parents need resources to teach children about the dangers of opioid abuse. Public service announcements should also be a tool, just as they were to warn about tobacco.
Interdiction and Enforcement
We need to aggressively go after the transnational crime organizations that are responsible for trafficking heroin across our borders and deep into the US. We need to stop the drugs from coming in through our border crossings and airports, the primary point of entry for heroin. Heroin is often concealed in cars, trucks, and sadly, even in people. Increased investments in non-intrusive inspection x-ray and gamma ray imaging systems (cargo scanners), and specialized detection canine teams will help us keep heroin out of our country and communities.
With regard to interdiction, it’s important to increase our ability to interdict drug traffickers at sea, where we can get tons rather than just pounds of illegal drugs. We should increase patrols by naval and Coast Guard ships, which have been reduced over the last several years by reckless sequester and other cuts. It’s important to hit the drug cartels financially by going after the multinational financial institutions that do the money laundering, and then criminally prosecute their CEOs as a deterrent; fines on such institutions are a joke, given bank profits.
It’s clear to all who work on this issue that more money is needed to stop this crisis in its tracks. It’s not enough to talk about the issue—we need real action. Unfortunately, Budget Committee member FRANK GUINTA and other Republicans on the Budget Committee voted “NO” on increasing funding to tackle the opioid crisis, because the increase in money would have come from reducing oil subsidies, raising taxes on the wealthiest, and closing international corporate tax loopholes. (See Budget Resolution Report, page 256-257.)
Congressman Guinta also voted against HR2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, now law, which provided $70 million for an evidence-based opioid drug overdose prevention program, and $7 million in the COPS program for competitive grants to statewide law enforcement agencies in states with high rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin and other opioids to locate and investigate illegal drug trafficking. There was also additional funding for the Veterans Affairs Administration to combat drug abuse and for a $38.2 million increase in the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.
Our communities are struggling with an epidemic, and we must respond by making treatment available to help people recover from addiction, and by more enforcement activities to stop the drugs from entering our country.