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Paul T.
Democrat NY 20

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  • Faces of Addiction

    by Representative Paul Tonko

    Posted on 2016-01-06

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    TONKO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman and the gentleman from New Hampshire, our colleagues who have made available this Special Order this evening through the auspices of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic.

    As co-chair of a similar panel, the bipartisan caucus that addresses the disease of addiction, it is important, I believe, to share information and encourage response out there from the general public to drive the policy process here in Washington.

    According to SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the use of heroin has almost tripled in the past 8 years, going from 161,000 in 2007 to some 435,000 in 2014. Much of what is fueling this epidemic has been the proliferation of stronger and stronger prescription drug painkillers. Many individuals first get addicted to these prescription drugs and then turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative.

    One in 15 people who take prescription pain relievers for a nonmedical use will try heroin within 10 years. These statistics are sobering and require a degree of response, an ultimate response, with great emergency.

    I have seen these issues firsthand in my district, and all of my colleagues are acknowledging here that it is beyond the Northeast. It is penetrating our Nation.

    While there has been increased congressional interest in these crises, not enough is being done to effectively end the epidemic. First, we need to increase funding for the Substance Abuse [[Page H92]] Prevention and Treatment Block Grant. This funding stream represents the cornerstone of our States' response, their substance abuse prevention, their treatment and recovery systems.

    Unfortunately, funding has not kept up with inflation over the past decade and adjusted for inflation, so we are actually funding the block grant program at a level that is some 25 percent less than we were in 2006. Contrasted to the stats that I shared on the growth of this epidemic, it is simple. It is immoral that we are not doing more.

    In addition, we need to make certain that we are increasing access to effective, evidence-based treatments. One way we could do this is to raise the DATA 2000 caps that limit the number of patients that a doctor can treat with buprenorphine, which is a medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse.

    There are many doctors who have months-long, if not years-long, waiting lists of patients seeking help with their addictions, yet they cannot get in the door for treatment due to this arbitrary cap.

    I was proud to join with my colleague from upstate New York, Representative Higgins, in introducing the TREAT Act to address the issue of prescriber caps, and I hope to continue to work with interested Members on both sides of the aisle to address the issue of access to treatment.

    Again, I thank my colleagues for bringing attention to this critical epidemic here this evening. Let's get the people's business done.

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