Yesterday the Senate approved the final version of CARA, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, in a 92-2 bipartisan vote. The bill now moves to the president’s desk for signature.
CARA is legislation co-sponsored by Rob Portman, Ohio Senator, with input from law enforcement, anti-drug advocates, addiction and recovery directors, educators, and health care specialists in Ohio on addressing the heroin/opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. The bill, once passed into law, would change the way addiction treatment and recovery is handled.
Following the successful vote yesterday, Sen. Portman said, “Today’s strong bipartisan vote is a victory for American families who are struggling with the disease of addiction. This is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery.”
Vernon Stanforth, Fayette County Sheriff, said the legislation is a strong start at addressing issues of addiction and recovery in the heroin/opioid epidemic.
He said he thinks the main thing the CARA legislation will do is provide funding for heroin/opioid prevention and education programs.
“The bill itself will be helpful in putting a program in place to stop the addiction before it starts. A program to curb the prescription medications that are being prescribed, to stop people from getting into the addiction, and to help keep them out of the cycle,” said Stanforth.
He said prescriptions for opioid pain medicine are being written every time a person complains about pain. Eventually a person becomes addicted to the pain medication and they turn to heroin.
“Prescription drug abuse, if we get that under control with education, that’s going to help,” said Stanforth. “There needs to be more education about what this is doing.”
Stanforth said that hopefully the bill will help to get ahead of the addiction issue, rather than trying to catch up to it.
“I think that’s what is going to get us ahead: prevent the addiction in the first place. It’s not going to stop all the addiction, but it’s going to prevent it,” said Stanforth.
The legislation would provide additional funding to the first responders who have to use Narcan – medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in an overdose.
“We are going into residences when these people have overdoses and the Narcan is important,” said Stanforth.
But he said we need to go further in order to make a difference in the opioid/heroin epidemic in the community.
“We are a small city but we are fighting just as big of an addiction issue as what is happening in a big city,” said Stanforth.
He said we need more of everything. “We need more mental health workers. More addiction specialists. We need detox facilities. We need a place to put people who are going through detox,” said Stanforth.
There are currently not a whole lot of options available to people who are in the cycle of heroin/opioid addiction. He said that people are being sent to jail to detox from heroin and opioids and become stuck in the cycle.
“The funding needs to be there to to help create centers where we can send people. Our jails shouldn’t be that but by default our jail has become the detox center,” said Stanforth.
He said the state and federal government has to start providing the funding to help those needs.
Sarah Nerad, Ohio State Collegiate Recovery Community Program Manager, said she has been working with Sen. Portman on the CARA legislation since 2015.
“I am pleased that Congress almost unanimously approved this historic legislation that treats substance use disorders as the disease it is. While we need to celebrate this victory, we must continue to advocate for Congress to fully fund CARA and ensure that every American in or seeking recovery can receive the help that they need,” said Nerad.
Stanforth said the issue of heroin/opioid addiction has become more than an individual one.
“This addiction, and personal addiction, has always been viewed as a personal issue, but time has shown it has become a societal issue because it’s at an epidemic level now,” said Stanforth. “If we can address the addictions that are currently out there, we can slow the trend.”
As the first piece of legislation to acknowledge addiction is a disease and not a moral problem, the law would change how treatment for heroin/opioid addiction is managed. It would fund medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs. The MAT programs would offer phased-treatment, to make psycho-social counseling a priority in preventing chronic relapse.
“I think the bill is a good beginning point for the addiction issue. It has to start somewhere and I think the bill starts that process,” said Stanforth.
Mike DeWine, Ohio Attorney General, said the CARA bill will be a tremendous help to Ohio communities and families struggling with the effects of drug addiction.
“I want to thank Ohio Senator Rob Portman who has been a leader in getting the CARA bill passed. I know this bill will make a difference for those who are addicted to opiates and their families,” said DeWine.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton