Rep. Annie Kuster: 21st Century Cures and the fight to address addiction

  • Rep. Annie Kuster AP

For the Monitor
Published: 12/8/2016 3:15:24 AM

If you travel throughout New Hampshire and meet with families, community leaders, law enforcement and treatment providers, you’ll see just how personal the opioid epidemic is to our state. In the last two years alone, nearly 1,000 Granite Staters have died from overdoses, and the lives of many more were devastated. Virtually no one in our state is untouched by this crisis.

The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated, which is why I have worked cooperatively with my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans – to provide the type of assistance our communities need. In October of 2015, I co-founded the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which is now a strong force for action in Washington. Earlier this year, the task force helped pass 18 bills in one week that were made part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

This week, Congress sent the 21st Century Cures Act to President Obama for his signature. This legislation will provide important resources to those who work tirelessly to address New Hampshire’s opioid crisis.

The Cures Act provides $1 billion over the next two years for states to implement programs that lead to improved prevention, education, treatment and recovery efforts. Importantly, the funding empowers states to tailor their programs to respond to the crisis in a way that makes the most difference in their communities.

In the coming months, I will work aggressively to get this money out the door and make sure our state government and local stakeholders have the information they need to maximize the impact of these new resources. As part of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, I’ll also push to fully fund CARA in the New Year so that we can further bolster treatment and recovery services while also funding law enforcement and interdiction efforts.

But 21st Century Cures does more than improve our response to addiction.

Countless incurable and debilitating diseases affect families in New Hampshire and mine is no exception. I cared for my mother, state senator Susan McLane, as she struggled with Alzheimer’s disease in her later years. If there is any opportunity to save another family from the challenges we faced, I want to pursue it.

In addition to new opioid funding, the 21st Century Cures Act includes $5 billion to fund groundbreaking research by the National Institutes of Health. Among other priorities, this will accelerate Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which was inspired by his son Beau’s tragic death from brain cancer. The bill also funds the BRAIN Initiative, to develop a better understanding of the function of the brain leading to cures for an array of disorders, including traumatic brain injury, depression, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Finally, it funds the Precision Medicine Initiative to better tailor treatments to individual patient’s needs, which has already led to new groundbreaking discoveries and treatments.

This critical research will take place at high-achieving institutions like Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire, leading to the development of new devices and treatments that will not only cure diseases and boost quality of life; it will lead to economic development and help create good jobs.

This bill is the result of genuine compromise and collaboration, and the outcome is far better than the status quo. While we may not all agree on every aspect of 21st Century Cures, the legislation is a major step toward addressing the opioid crisis and propelling medical research into the new century.

Here in New Hampshire, we have a real challenge on our hands, but I’ve been proud to see our delegation put politics aside to advance solutions to the opioid epidemic. I’m committed to this fight moving forward and will work with anyone who is willing to focus on achieving real results. That means fully implementing both the Cures Act and CARA to support law enforcement, education, treatment and recovery in the Granite State.

As many on both sides of the aisle feel apprehensive about the upcoming government transition and the years to follow, I hope this bipartisan success will serve as a model for what we can achieve by working together. While government and politics can be messy and frustrating, we have the potential to achieve good things and help real people.

If this is the approach we take into the next four years, we have reason to be optimistic about the future.

(Congresswoman Annie Kuster represents New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, and is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic.)

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