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Federal fight vs. opioid addiction to take a big step

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 13. 2016 12:02AM
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (David Lane/Staff)

On the eve of a big national victory in the federal government’s fight against opioid addiction, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she’s thinking about a Plaistow mom whose son died from a heroin overdose that started with a painkiller addiction.

“His family was shocked at how many pills he was legally prescribed for his back pain and it wasn’t long before he turned to something else for his pain — heroin,” Ayotte recalled.

Today, the U.S. Senate is expected to deliver a bipartisan vote of final passage on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a 128-page bill Ayotte and three other sponsors have worked on for two years.

“There’s more work to be done but it’s really important to get the bill passed. It provides the legislative framework that gives us the policy behind which funding can be delivered,” Ayotte said Tuesday during a telephone interview.

Last week the U.S. House passed the compromise 407-5; the Senate passed its own bill, 94-1 earlier this spring.

“(It’s) time for to us to rise above the politics ... There’s an urgent and pressing need for this legislation,” Ayotte said. “

Nearly 250 constituency groups endorsed the compromise including several in New Hampshire, such as Hope for New Hampshire Recovery and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

The progress in Washington comes as the number of drug deaths continues to grow in New Hampshire. Just past the year’s halfway point, the state Medical Examiner’s Office reports 161 confirmed deaths. With hundreds of other cases still pending, Chief Forensic Investigator Kim Fallon forecasts this year’s total will come in at 494. There were a record 439 last year.

Advocates say the compromise bill contains programs that address prevention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, overdose reversal and law enforcement.

There is no way to say how much money CARA will deliver to fight the epidemic in New Hampshire and that answer could be two years away. This remains the sharpest, political dispute over this measure.

It’s an authorization bill. In Capitol Hill parlance, this means the bill doesn’t provide a single dollar unless it’s followed up by congressional spending bills.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., tried to jump-start the process with a Senate amendment bill last spring that would have attached $600 million in emergency money.

That bid failed, 48-47, with Ayotte one of only a few GOP senators crossing party lines to support the amendment.

“CARA is good legislation but without funding, it’s like a life preserver with no air in it,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it could take two years for CARA’s related funding to reach New Hampshire. As any police officer or treatment provider in New Hampshire can tell you, they desperately need resources today.”

“The Senate must rise to meet this challenge as it has done in previous health emergencies. There is simply no excuse for Congress providing emergency funding for the Ebola and swine flu epidemics, while ignoring an opioid crisis that’s killing a person a day in the Granite State.”

And the Democrat seeking to unseat Ayotte, Gov. Maggie Hassan, underlined this fiscal reality as well.

“The federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act reflects some of the priorities that the governor has pushed for with the National Governors Association and she is glad to see bipartisan recognition of the need to address the issue, but that must be backed up by emergency federal funds, which unfortunately Congress has failed to do,” said William Hinkle, Hassan’s communications director.

“Here in New Hampshire, we have worked across party lines to provide additional resources to those battling this horrible epidemic on the front lines, and we need Washington to do the same.”

On Friday, Hassan and Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker, a Republican, co-host a news conference and panel on opioids at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.

Ayotte said in the past two years she’s fought to get into federal spending bills a two-and-a-half time increase of dollars — up to $468 million in the coming year.

The best thing this law could do, Ayotte said, is to help remove the stigma of addiction. “My promise is not to allow any of these people to become just statistics.”


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