On Senate Floor, Shaheen Calls $1 Billion to Fight Opioid Epidemic “A Major Milestone” That “Will Save Lives”
**Shaheen: “For treatment providers on the front lines of the epidemic, I’m pleased to say that help is on the way”**
(Washington, DC) —U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor today applauding the inclusion of $1 billion in funding over two years to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic in the 21st Century Cures Act, which is expected to be voted on by the Senate very soon. The House of Representatives passed the bill last week with broad, bipartisan support. Upon Senate passage this week, the bill will be sent to President Obama for his signature. Of the $1 billion, $500 million would be available this year and the remaining $500 million would be disbursed next year. Shaheen was instrumental in securing funding as part of the legislation and she has led the charge in Congress since November 2015 to fund the response to the opioid crisis. Shaheen also successfully advocated for a provision that would prioritize this funding for states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, which includes New Hampshire.
Shaheen called this new funding “a major milestone and a long overdue initial investment in combatting the opioid epidemic.” Shaheen continued, “For treatment providers on the front lines of the epidemic, I’m pleased to say that help is on the way.”
Shaheen quoted the U.S. Surgeon General's recent Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, which found a staggering 21 million Americans have a substance use disorder and only 10% of Americans with substance use disorders receive any type of treatment. “Over the last year, I have visited treatment centers in every part of the Granite State. These centers are staffed by skilled, dedicated treatment professionals. They are saving lives every day. But they tell me that for every life they save, others are being lost for lack of treatment capacity, facilities, and funding.”
Shaheen stated, “This new funding [in the Cures Act] will make a real difference for treatment providers in each of our States. And make no mistake, this legislation will save lives.” In her remarks, Shaheen drew attention to stories of Granite Staters who have been affected by substance misuse, including that of Carl Messinger, whose story of relapse and subsequent overdose inspired the legislation titled Carl’s Law, which Sen. Shaheen introduced in the Senate in September.
Shaheen closed her remarks by highlighting President-elect Trump’s pledge for aggressive action to fight the opioid epidemic. “When the new Congress convenes in January, we must come together with our new President, on a bipartisan basis, to address the opioid crisis in a comprehensive fashion, including continuing resources for policing, prevention, treatment, and recovery. As Surgeon General Murthy says: ‘How we respond to this crisis is a test for America.’ With so many lives at stake, this is a test we must not fail.”
Shaheen's remarks as prepared for delivery are included below:
Mr. President, the 21st Century Cures Act is a major milestone and a long-overdue initial investment in combatting the opioid epidemic. In particular, I applaud the inclusion of $1 billion in funding over two years to address this crisis. For treatment providers on the front lines of the epidemic, I’m pleased to say that help is on the way.
And make no mistake, these new resources are badly needed. This remains an uncontrolled epidemic – and it is still gaining strength. A staggering 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014 – more Americans than died in car accidents. I’m pleased that this bill includes language to prioritize the allocation of these new resources to the most heavily impacted States. I will work with the current and incoming administrations to get this funding out to our States as quickly as possible.
Mr. President, more than a year ago, I introduced legislation to stem the tide of the opioid crisis by providing emergency funding to States, first responders, and treatment providers. In July, we were debating the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – CARA. It was a good bill, but it was not an appropriations bill, and therefore didn’t provide funding to fight opioids. I attempted to amend my emergency funding bill to CARA, but it was not included. So I joined with other Senators in demanding that the Cures Act include at least an initial infusion of funding to fight the opioid epidemic. I’m very relieved that these efforts have led to the bipartisan agreement we will soon vote on.
Last month, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a landmark report and an urgent call to action. He said that a staggering 21 million Americans have a substance use disorder – far more Americans than have cancer – yet only one in 10 is receiving any kind of treatment.
My State of New Hampshire, and New England overall, has been especially hard hit. But make no mistake, this is a nationwide epidemic – and it does not discriminate. It is impacting young and old, urban and rural, rich and poor, whites and minorities.
This fall, I met with Susan Messinger of Holderness, NH. Her son, Carl, experimented with heroin at a party. Perhaps not knowing he was at risk, he quickly became addicted. He got treatment, and was in recovery. But he came down with a respiratory infection and was prescribed medicine that, unknown to him, included an opioid. Carl relapsed, and died of a fentanyl overdose just days shy of his 25th birthday.
Mr. President, this chart [“Drug Overdose Deaths Across America”] was compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows the inexorable spread of the opioid crisis from 2003 to 2008 and to 2014. By 2014, the epidemic had reached every part of the United States, with especially destructive concentrations in the Appalachian region and the Southwest. According to the CDC, mortality trends in the opioid epidemic are now similar to trends in the Human Immunodeficiency Virus – HIV – epidemic at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This second chart [“Drug Overdose Deaths Across New Hampshire”], shows the parallel spread of the opioid epidemic in my State of New Hampshire, with especially devastating impacts in the largely rural North Country.
In his landmark report last month, the U.S. Surgeon General said (and I quote): “It’s time to change how we view addiction -- not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion.” Yet treatment centers across the country are completely overwhelmed.
Certainly, the new funding in the Cures Act will be welcome news to Friendship House in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, a treatment center that I visited last Friday. It is in my State’s North Country, which has one of the highest overdose rates per capita in New Hampshire. Friendship House is the only treatment center within a radius of 65 miles.
In April, Kaiser Health News reported on the case of Eddie Sawyer, who overdosed and died while waiting his turn to be admitted to Friendship House. When police found Mr. Sawyer, on the table next to his bed was a list of treatment facilities. There were check marks next to the name of each facility. Mr. Sawyer had called every place on the list, and had not found one that would take him in for treatment.
Let me repeat, the Surgeon General’s new report states that nearly nine out of 10 people with substance use disorders do not receive treatment. They are being turned away and denied treatment due to a chronic lack of resources.
Over the last year, I have visited treatment centers in every part of the Granite State. These centers are staffed by skilled, dedicated treatment professionals. They are saving lives every day. But they tell me that for every life they save, others are being lost for lack of treatment capacity, facilities, and funding. And when people with substance use disorders are turned away, this means that they remain on the streets, desperate, often committing crimes to support their addiction, at constant risk of a lethal overdose.
Last year, a promising young woman named Molly Alice Parks died of a heroin overdose in Manchester, NH. Her father wrote her obituary, which appeared in the Union Leader newspaper. He wrote openly about Molly’s struggle with addiction, and the obituary included this plea to readers, and I quote: “If you have any loved ones who are fighting addiction, Molly’s family asks that you do everything possible to be supportive, and guide them to rehabilitation before it is too late.”
I admire the courage of Molly’s father – his willingness to warn other families and talk openly about his daughter’s addiction. But what if a family persuades a son or daughter to seek treatment, but no treatment is available? Sadly, that is the case in so many communities across America, where treatment centers are overwhelmed.
And that is why the additional resources in the Cures Act are so important. This new funding will make a real difference for treatment providers in each of our States. And make no mistake, this legislation will save lives.
The funding in the Cures Act, as I said, is a welcome initial investment in combatting the opioid epidemic. President-Elect Trump, during dozens of visits to my State over the last year, pledged aggressive action to fight the opioid epidemic. When the new Congress convenes in January, we must come together with our new President, on a bipartisan basis, to address the opioid crisis in a comprehensive fashion, including continuing resources for policing, prevention, treatment, and recovery. As Surgeon General Murthy says: “How we respond to this crisis is a test for America.” With so many lives at stake, this is a test we must not fail.
Mr. President, with the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress is providing urgent new funding to treatment providers on the front lines – professionals who have been doing truly heroic, life-saving work. Our message in passing this legislation is: help is on the way. I urge my colleagues to give strong, bipartisan support to this important bill.