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Sen. Maggie Hassan: A critical next step in our response to the opioid crisis



For the Monitor
Sunday, March 11, 2018

Every day in communities across New Hampshire and our entire country, first responders answer the call for another overdose, families and friends try to help their loved ones in the throes of addiction get treatment, and individuals in recovery fight to stay healthy.

This crisis is the most pressing public health and safety challenge we face. Too many people across New Hampshire have a family member, a friend, a co-worker or neighbor who was taken far too soon. We need a response that matches in scope the national public health emergency we are facing.

Supporting those on the front lines of this crisis is one of my top priorities, as it is for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the entire New Hampshire delegation. I recently joined colleagues from both parties in introducing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0, a bipartisan bill that is a critical next step in our efforts to help save lives and strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement efforts.

As part of the bipartisan budget agreement we reached last month, we secured an additional $6 billion in federal funding to combat the opioid crisis, as well as a commitment that states like New Hampshire that have been hardest hit will get a greater share of the funding than we have in the past. It will ultimately take far more than $6 billion to truly address this crisis – and I will keep fighting to secure additional funding – but these dollars are an important next step.

The bipartisan CARA 2.0 bill identifies some of the key issues that should be prioritized as we work to get this federal funding – and additional future funding – to communities that need it most. The bill also makes important policy changes to help support a comprehensive response to this crisis.

One of the key things we must do is expand access to medication-assisted treatment. Our treatment capacity simply isn’t keeping up with the number of people who are ready to seek help. This bill takes important steps to expand access to treatment, including by calling for a significant increase in funding for evidence-based medication-assisted treatment and by letting states waive a restriction on the number of patients a doctor can treat using medication-assisted treatment.

Substance use disorder is a chronic disease, and we must also recognize that people will need ongoing treatment and recovery support. To help support the construction of communities of recovery, this bill prioritizes a substantial increase in federal grants for recovery organizations.

In addition to supporting treatment and recovery efforts, this bill also helps support our public safety officials. First responders and public safety officials across New Hampshire often find their days consumed by responding to overdoses, and face danger when exposed to drugs like fentanyl, which can be lethal even in trace amounts. That is why I fought to expand a first responder training program in this bill. For example, these grants could be used for training and resources to help public safety officials protect themselves.

However, if we are just responding to overdoses, we are not attacking the root causes of this crisis. We must also recognize that this crisis stems in large part from the overprescribing of highly addictive painkillers. Building on policies we implemented in New Hampshire when I was governor, CARA 2.0 would require physicians and pharmacists to use their state prescription drug monitoring programs before dispensing opioids, so they have better information about whether it is safe and appropriate to prescribe these drugs in the first place. It would also take steps to help ensure that doctors are prescribing opioids in line with the amounts recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

And to better manage the flow of these potentially dangerous prescriptions, the bill also increases civil and criminal penalties on opioid manufacturers who fail to report suspicious orders for opioids or who fail to put in place adequate safeguards to prevent these drugs from being diverted for illicit use.

These are just some of the ways that this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation would support those on the front lines of the fentanyl, heroin and opioid crisis in New Hampshire, and help save lives across the country.

Communities, law enforcement and those struggling need our continued support and action. And members of both parties must continue to work together in order to make progress.

I am grateful to Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who came together to introduce this bill, and I will continue working across party lines to pass this bill without delay and strengthen our comprehensive response to this crisis.

(Sen. Maggie Hassan is New Hampshire’s junior U.S. senator.)