Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), author of a comprehensive law already on the books to battle the opioid crisis, scored several victories for Rhode Island in a broad opioid bill passed by the Senate this evening. The Whitehouse provisions would help to build on the success Rhode Islanders have had in addressing opioid addiction and promoting recovery.
“We know Rhode Island can turn the tide against the opioid crisis, and we draw strength from the inspiring people walking the long, noble path of recovery,” said Whitehouse. “I have been working with Rhode Island’s recovery community, first responders, health care providers, state and local officials, law enforcement, and others on the front lines of this crisis to put forward practical, effective solutions like the provisions in this bill. I am proud to see our work advance.”
Whitehouse’s provisions would increase the amount of funding congressional appropriators can make available for first responder training, opioid-related infant care, education and awareness, and recovery programs. They would also permit the sharing of important data on opioid prescribing and help test incentives for behavioral health care providers to adopt electronic health records.
“Senator Whitehouse’s support of efforts to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis has made a significant difference in Rhode Island,” said Rebecca Boss, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals. “This legislation takes our work to the next level, addressing the needs of critical populations: pregnant women and infants, youth, and people in need of safe and supportive housing. Senator Whitehouse’s contributions to this comprehensive legislation will help close the gaps in our service delivery system.”
The wins continue Whitehouse’s bipartisan work to combat the opioid crisis. Beginning in 2014, Whitehouse and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) hosted five forums in Rhode Island and across the country with experts and practitioners from the prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and recovery communities to share best practices in their fields. They sought to write a bill to encourage the use of best practices and authorize funding for evidence-based education, treatment, and recovery programs that have proven to work. The result, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), was signed into law in July 2016. Whitehouse and Portman earlier this year introduced CARA 2.0 to continue their success.
“We appreciate the continued commitment Senator Whitehouse and his colleagues in the Senate have to providing the resources we need to combat this crisis,” said Tom Coderre, Senior Advisor to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. “Many of the programs outlined in this new version of CARA align with the strategic plan developed by Governor Raimondo’s Overdose Intervention and Prevention Task Force.”
There is bipartisan agreement that more resources will be necessary to help turn the tide of the opioid epidemic. CARA authorized more than $180 million for evidence-based programs. The legislation passed today would authorize an additional $101 million for CARA programs.
“This legislation will be a critical support to our work to strengthen the infrastructure at the local, community level throughout Rhode Island to prevent overdoses and save lives,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “We have lost more than 1,400 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.”
Because of CARA, Rhode Island has received $3 million over three years to create ten Centers of Excellence for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder, which are a cornerstone of Governor Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Action Plan. The centers provide rapid access to medication assisted treatment and comprehensive recovery support services for people struggling with this chronic disease.
Whitehouse included provisions in the legislation passed today to:
First Responder Training
- Improve training for first responders to be better prepared to handle the powerful opioid fentanyl.
- Increase the amount of funding Congress can appropriate for first responder training from $12 million to $36 million per year.
Caring for Infants & Mothers
- Authorize Congress to appropriate $60 million per year to help states formulate plans to safely care for infants born with opioid-related illnesses.
- Increase the amount of funding Congress can appropriate from $16.9 million to $29.9 million per year for residential treatment for pregnant and postpartum women.
Prescription Drug Monitoring & Health Information Technology
- Clarify that state Medicaid programs can share data with a state prescription drug monitoring programs if allowed by state law.
- Authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Innovation Center to test providing incentives for behavioral health providers to adopt and use electronic health records.
Building Communities of Recovery
- Increase the amount of funding Congress can appropriate to recovery community organizations, like Anchor Recovery in Rhode Island, from $1 million to $5 million.
Recovery Housing Best Practices
- Require the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best practices for organizations that assist people recovering from an opioid addiction in securing housing.
Youth Prevention and Recovery Initiative
- Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to share best practices for preventing substance use disorder and promoting recovery from substance use disorder in children, adolescents, and young adults.
National Education and Awareness Program
- Authorize $486 million to support efforts to prevent substance use disorders, including through carrying out the education and awareness program enacted as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
- Under this program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will run national programs to raise awareness and educate the public and health care providers on the dangers of opioids.
The Senate cleared the bipartisan opioid bill today by a vote of 99-1. The House and the Senate will now negotiate a final version of the bill.