March 10, 2016

Senate Passes Whitehouse’s Far-Reaching Bill to Tackle Addiction Crisis

Legislation Would Help States Combat Prescription Opioid Drug and Heroin Abuse

Washington, D.C. – With the rate of death from opioid-related overdose having quadrupled since 2000 and communities in Rhode Island and around the country fighting to control opioid and heroin abuse, the Senate has passed wide-ranging legislation to combat the ongoing national crisis.  The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, authored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and cosponsored by 42 others, will help states prevent drug abuse, treat addiction, and reduce overdose deaths.  The bill passed by a vote of 94-1 today.

“In Rhode Island, I’ve seen addiction touch people in all walks of life, reach communities big and small, and claim far too many lives.  This bill treats addiction like the illness it is.  The bill will help states give law enforcement officers, health care providers, family members, and all those on the front lines of this battle a better shot at success,” said Whitehouse.  “Addiction is a tough illness, and recovery is a hard but noble path.  The men and women who walk it deserve our support, encouragement, and admiration.  That’s why I am so proud to have passed this legislation today, and why I hope the Senate passes an emergency funding measure in the near future so this bill can immediately help all those it should.”

Whitehouse and Portman introduced the bill in February 2015.  During the drafting of the bill, Senators Whitehouse, Portman, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) held five congressional briefings with stakeholders from public health, law enforcement, criminal justice, and other fields looking at ways to better support prevention efforts, addiction treatment, and recovery. 

Whitehouse has also held numerous meetings throughout Rhode Island to discuss addiction issues and his legislation with law enforcement officers and officials, educators, behavioral health care providers and specialists, community groups, and those in recovery.

“Effective addiction treatments exist, and recovery is possible,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “Yet addiction and overdose are claiming too many lives and hurting families in communities in Rhode Island and across the country.  Our Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force is focused on implementing proven strategies to cut the number of opioid overdose deaths in Rhode Island by one-third within three years.  I commend Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on this important issue and for introducing this legislation, which will strengthen the efforts of the many partners working together to address this epidemic and build stronger, healthier communities.”

“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would help ensure that tools and resources that are vital to fighting the drug overdose epidemic, such as naloxone, prevention education, and medication-assisted treatment, get to where they are needed most in Rhode Island,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.  “We have lost more than 1,000 lives to drug overdoses in the last five years.  Every one of those deaths was preventable.  I commend Senator Whitehouse for taking the lead on this issue at the national level and for helping us build healthier communities here in Rhode Island.”

“Finally, legislation is coming that addresses on the federal, state, and local level this devastating epidemic—an issue that’s discussed over every kitchen table.  Here in Rhode Island, and throughout New England, we’ve felt its impact so dramatically.  We applaud Senator Whitehouse for bringing this lifesaving legislation front and center.  It’s one of the most critical public health issues facing communities across the nation in decades,” stated Patrick B. McEneaney, Senior Vice President, Executive Director, Phoenix House New England

“Sheldon Whitehouse has always been a strong advocate and friend of Anchor Recovery Community Centers and of recovery support services and treatment of substance use disorder.  We are extremely pleased and energized by the strong showing in the United States Senate for CARA and more particularly for the Senator for his tireless efforts in making sure that this legislation is in the forefront of the United States Senate.  We look forward to the passage of CARA and in continuing to work with the Senator on this important Recovery effort,” said Michelle Harter of the Anchor Recovery Centers.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would:

  • Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers—to prevent the abuse of opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery. 
  • Make naloxone more widely available to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help in the reversal of overdoses to save lives. 
  • Provide resources to promptly identify and more effectively treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders.
  • Increase the number of disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to keep them out of the hands of our children and adolescents.
  • Launch an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions program and promote treatment best practices throughout the country.
  • Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion and to help at-risk individuals access services.

Emergency room visits linked to misuse or abuse of prescription opioids are up by more than 50 percent since 2004; over 10 million Americans reported using prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes in 2014; and national rates of death from opioid-related overdose are almost four times higher than they were in 2000, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The legislation is supported by the National Association of Attorneys General, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Faces and Voices of Recovery, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, among others.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921