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  • Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Bill

    by Representative Shelley Moore Capito

    Posted on 2016-02-29

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    CAPITO. Madam President, as we are all sadly aware, the United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths. The statistics are just startling. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent, including a 200-percent increase in overdose deaths attributed to the use of opioids.

    West Virginia has the unfortunate distinction of leading the Nation in drug-related overdose deaths--more than twice the national average. As I travel across the State, I hear constantly about the devastation caused by this epidemic. West Virginia communities are grappling with the seriousness and pain of addiction. No family or community--mine included--is immune from this pain.

    As one of my constituents put it, ``We must give our young people a reason not to start using something that robs them of everything they have.'' Other West Virginians have bravely shared their family's stories of addiction's pain with me. In the powerful words of one of my constituents, ``It only takes a few seconds to use drugs--but a lifetime to fight.'' Drug addiction is a diseases that knows no boundaries, and West Virginia is certainly not alone in this fight. My colleagues in the Senate--including, I am sure, the Acting President pro tempore--return each week with similar stories. No matter our political party, we should all agree on one thing, we must act to change these horrifying statistics and to save lives.

    Some steps have already been taken to address this drug epidemic. The appropriations bill we passed last December included funding to expand prevention efforts. It included improved data collection and new treatment services, training for our servicemembers who [[Page S1066]] are battling addiction, and training for the first responders who are responding to these drug overdoses.

    Today we hope to begin debate on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. I thank my colleagues Senator Portman, Senator Ayotte, and Senator Whitehouse for their leadership on this important legislation.

    This bipartisan bill, known as CARA, addresses the opioid epidemic by expanding prevention and education. It also promotes the resources needed for treatment and recovery. It includes reforms to help law enforcement respond to the drug epidemic, and it supports long-term recovery efforts--which, as we see in my State of West Virginia, we don't have enough treatment options, particularly in the long-term recovery area.

    The legislation also expands the availability of naloxone, a lifesaving drug that helps to reverse the effects of an overdose, and we are also creating disposal sites for unwanted prescriptions.

    CARA provides resources for treatment alternatives to incarceration, such as the successful and expanding drug court programs that operate in West Virginia and many other States. We just had a graduation the other day with some great success stories included in that from the drug court. According to the Beckley Register Herald, counties with drug courts have already seen cost savings and deep declines of recidivism rates among graduates.

    CARA also provides a provision to improve treatment programs for pregnant women and mothers who have substance abuse disorder. Another startling statistic is the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome that has increased fivefold from the years 2000 to the year 2012.

    Last fall, I introduced the Improving Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women Act, with Senators Ayotte, Whitehouse, and Klobuchar. The CARA act provides a provision that could play a critical role in preventing neonatal abstinence syndrome and getting treatment to pregnant women and new mothers.

    Also, last fall I worked with Senator Markey and others to help restore drug take-back days and keep medications out of the wrong hands. We all probably have some medication in our own medicine chests that are no longer necessary and that we don't need to have. It might have been for a family member. It is time to clean out those medicine chests. I participated in last year's program in Charleston, WV, and was pleased to see the overwhelming response. CARA focuses on the programs that work and will streamline efforts across multiple Federal agencies.

    In order to further address the needs of our communities, I am working on several bipartisan amendments on this bill. These amendments include solutions to improve prescribing practices and prevent overprescribing. Too many stories of addiction start with patients taking painkillers after a minor surgery or a minor injury.

    That is why I am pleased to be working with Senator Gillibrand on an effort that would require clear CDC guidelines for prescribing opioids for acute pain--a tooth extraction, maybe a broken arm, something that doesn't last forever, but the pain is acute in the beginning but fades rather quickly.

    I also am pleased to be working with Senator Warren on an amendment that allows doctors to partially fill certain opioid prescriptions. These will reduce the number of unused painkillers sitting in our medicine cabinets and help to prevent future cases of drug abuse and addiction.

    In order to reduce the number of overdose deaths, I am working with Senator Kaine to allow doctors to coprescribe the lifesaving drug naloxone when they prescribe an opioid. This would make naloxone more widely available in Federal health care settings, such as community health centers, VA clinics, and DOD facilities. I am also focused on tackling one of the saddest realities of this epidemic.

    In my State of West Virginia, babies born exposed to opioids during pregnancy are approximately three times the national average. Every 25 minutes in this country a baby is born with addiction. Nationwide, this condition has increased fivefold from the years 2000 to 2012.

    This amendment will provide clear guidelines to encourage the creation of residential pediatric recovery centers, like the wonderful Lily's Place in Huntington, WV. I am pleased to be working with Senator King from Maine and Congressman Evan Jenkins from West Virginia on this effort.

    CARA represents a positive step forward in addressing the opioid crisis. The four amendments that I have outlined, I believe, will strengthen the bill. They would prevent addiction, promote recovery, and curb the scourge of drug addiction in my State and in others across this country. There is much work ahead for all of us in this area. The actions we are hopefully taking here this week in Washington are simply first steps.

    This bill builds on the tireless work being done at the State and local levels by communities, law enforcement, and health professionals all across this country. They are working together. By working together, we can change these statistics and stop more tragedies from occurring--stop the human tragedy of losing a loved one, of losing a mother or father.

    I urge my colleagues to begin debate on CARA this evening and to support this important legislation. I am concerned we are in jeopardy of losing the next generation. So we have much work to do.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Texas.

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