We keep hearing about the opiate epidemic throughout this country, and we wonder how it’s possible to battle such a behemoth monster. Substance abuse treatment professionals who work in opiate recovery centers are excited to report that in February 2016 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).
The next step for this landmark act takes it onto the floor of Congress. The House must pass it before it moves on to the Senate for approval. Only then will it land on the President’s desk to be signed into law. The good news, according to Julie Miller, editor of Behavioral Healthcare Insights for Executives, is that no legislators have expressed outright opposition to this important bill.
The initial thrust of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will be to explore best practices for managing pain as well as efficient ways for teaching healthcare providers about those practices. Since most people addicted to opiates get there by abusing pain medications, there must be strategies for educating people and healthcare providers alike and expanding access to opiate recovery.
Why do we need to learn even more about managing pain and prescribing pain medication? When people increase their knowledge about pain management and pain pill addiction, there will be a decreased need for opiate recovery programs. CARA recognizes the need for fighting addiction with money, because the very second sentence of the bill addresses to whom and when the monies can be disseminated.
Finally, the Funds Will Be Available
The Attorney General will be authorized by CARA to make grants to states, localities, and nonprofit organizations so that they can provide more and better education about opiate recovery and addiction prevention to people within communities. Those people need to understand that prevention education does work, and that addiction is a medical diagnosis for which treatment and recovery are possible.
Priority in dispensing grant money will go to communities where naloxone can be administered without prosecution of the layperson administering it. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in its present wording specifies that prevention educators can train people how to administer naloxone in order to reduce deaths from opiate overdose within communities.
Grant funds can also go to pharmacies that promote the use of naloxone or offer programs to prevent opiate addiction. Training will take place in opiate recovery programs such as outpatient facilities that offer methadone and Suboxone.
Money will be available at the state and local level to educate and treat people who have been jailed. Increasing numbers of people agree that treatment should come before incarceration. It will be available for those agencies that are permitted to operate medication disposal systems. Manufacturers and distributors of prescription medications are eligible, which may attract funds from some of the pharmaceutical companies that always cry about how innocent their drugs are. Programs for pregnant women will put them at the head of the line to get the first and best treatment.
The unique problems befalling our veterans with addictions will be addressed by CARA with expanded treatment court programs. Protocols for helping them transition back to civilian life should reduce prescription pain pill addiction. Programs will manage their mental health and criminal justice needs.
Programs will be funded that educate teenagers and college students on the dangers of opiate addiction, and opiate recovery services will also be established for those same population groups. Recovery community organizations will make it possible for our upcoming generation to get and stay clean and provide the funds for opiate recovery programs where needed.
Money for Opiate Recovery Programs
The bill recognizes the need to get funds first where they are most needed, in areas with a high rate of heroin addiction, and the bill specifies that funds will go to neighborhood opiate recovery programs. It’s about time that the government’s legislators overcome their reluctance to subsidize treatment with methadone and Suboxone. The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has long recognized that medication assisted treatment offers the best hope of recovery to people who seek opiate recovery services. Many hope that this will go a long way to change the minds of people who refuse to believe in the benefits of medication assisted treatment, the people who think that someone using opiates is a criminal who deserves the bad consequences that befall him or her.
There is also a focus on the stigma of opiate drug addiction. It’s long past the time when people should stop and learn about the benefits of medication assisted opiate recovery. Research will determine the collateral damage that a company might sustain by hiring someone sent to jail because of drug charges and then determine whether those consequences should stop a person from performing their professional activities. Those going into college will no longer need to answer the question about conviction for or possession of drugs when they are completing their yearly FAFSA forms (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The sanctity of the family unit is addressed through funds devoted to family-based treatment in lieu of incarceration. This means that custodial parents will not be jerked out of the family and sent to jail if they can possibly benefit from treatment within the community. Addiction is a family issue, after all, and when one person is in need of an opiate recovery program, the entire family benefits from education and counseling services.
The grants awarded through CARA will come from the government’s nonmilitary discretionary funding. That means money cannot come from must-have programs such as Social Security, education, or government healthcare programs. It will take money away from programs that would be nice but are not necessary. Who can deny that opiate recovery is necessary and that the government must, at long last, commit funds to provide treatment and education for addiction?
The bill first went to the Senate, co-sponsored by Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman and Rhode Island’s Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, in February 2015. It was read twice and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where hearings were held in early 2016. The Committee has sent it on to the House as Senate Bill 524, where it is known as House Bill 953 of the same name. It has now picked up some 81 sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and the chances for its passage are excellent.
Let your congressmen and senators know that you support this bill. You can identify your representatives and communicate with them via their website. Your local opiate recovery program will also be able to tell you if the bill has been passed or not, and you can learn more about opiate addiction treatment if you just pick up the phone and call them. Expanded opportunities for recovery may soon become a reality for everybody.