The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation that would expand prevention, treatment and education about drug abuse involving heroin and prescription painkillers. Only problem is: There’s no funding for it.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 passed with a near-unanimous 94-1 vote, a rarity in a contentious election year when both parties are reluctant to work cooperatively.
But the legislation, sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, provides no new money to fund its ambitious goals after Republican lawmakers killed a Democratic plan last week to provide $600 million in funding for measure.
Earlier this month, the White House said in a statement that without funding, the Senate bill would “do little to address” the heroin and opioid epidemic.
“Moreover, rather than accelerate important policies like training health care providers about appropriate opioid prescribing, the bill includes an unnecessary feasibility study on the issue that would delay action,” the White House statement said. It’s unclear whether Obama would sign the measure into law.
Obama’s proposed 2017 budget seeks $1.1 billion in new federal money to combat the worrying rates of abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers in the United States.
The fight against growing heroin and prescription drug abuse has support from both political parties.
In 2015, overdoses from heroin, prescription drugs and opioid pain relievers topped car accidents as the nation’s leading cause of injury-related deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention.
In Florida, annual heroin overdose deaths increased to 447 in 2014, from just 47 in 2010, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
Manatee County, south of Tampa, is the center of Florida’s heroin abuse problem, with more heroin overdose deaths per capita in 2014 than any other Florida county.
On Wednesday, Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Bradenton Republican, hosted a roundtable on the area’s heroin problem at Goodwill Manasota, where area stakeholders and residents acknowledged a lack of funding and resources to adequately deal with the problem.
In a written statement Thursday, Buchanan said the attendees’ message was clear: “Congress needs to act,” Buchanan wrote. “The Senate’s action is a positive step, and I am doing everything in my power to make sure that the U.S. House moves with urgency on this issue so that we can get this important legislation signed into law.”
Buchanan is a co-sponsor of both House companion bills.
The CARA Act would expand the availability of naloxone, which is used by first responders to revive heroin and opioid overdose victims. It also would improve state efforts to monitor and track the sale and illegal diversion of prescription drugs, while steers money towards treating jailed addicts instead of just punishing them.
The bill also would prohibit the Department of Education from asking about convictions for possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story wrongly said that the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act now moves to the White House for consideration. That won't happen unless the House of Representatives passes companion legislation.