Whitehouse Cheers Final Passage of Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act

By Carmen Russo

Senate clears bill to promote prevention, treatment, and recovery from opioid addiction
Fundamental shift in American drug policy heads to President’s desk to be signed
into law

Washington, DC – Today, the Senate adopted the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery
Act conference report, giving final approval to legislation that addresses the
addiction crisis unfolding throughout the country through new programs to prevent
and treat addiction, and support those in recovery. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who
along with Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
authored the Senate version of the bill that
passed
in March, applauded the chamber’s 92-2 vote to pass the merged House-Senate bill.

“In Rhode Island and communities across America, the addiction crisis touches people
in all walks of life and claims far too many lives. This legislation sees addiction
for what it is—a disease in need of treatment. It will help first responders,
health care providers, family members, law enforcement, and everyone on the front
lines of this crisis to care for those afflicted. And it will support Americans
walking the long but noble path of recovery,” said Whitehouse. “I am proud to have
worked with brave men and women in our recovery community and all the stakeholders
who shared their knowledge and experience as we crafted this legislation. Now we
must move quickly to ensure we have the funding in place for this bill to fully
achieve its objectives.”

In Rhode Island in 2015, 258 people lost their lives to overdoses—more than the
number of those killed in homicides, suicides, and car accidents combined.

“I commend Senator Whitehouse for stepping up and taking action to fight the drug
overdose epidemic at the national level. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery
Act will ensure that tools and resources that are vital to addressing this crisis,
such as naloxone, prevention education, and medication-assisted treatment, get to
where they are needed most,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the
Rhode Island Department of Health. “This legislation represents meaningful action
that will absolutely save lives in Rhode Island and across the country. We need to
continue coordinating at the local, state, and federal levels to end stigma and get
people into treatment. Addiction is a disease, but recovery is possible.”

Beginning in 2014, as part of the process of drafting their bill, Whitehouse,
Portman, and Ayotte hosted five national forums with members of both the House and
Senate highlighting various aspects of addiction and recovery—including the science
of addiction, addiction and the criminal justice process, women and addiction, the
collateral consequences of addiction, addiction and youth, and treatment and
recovery in the veteran community. Each forum brought together experts and
practitioners from the prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and recovery
communities to share best practices in their fields from across the United States.

“At Phoenix House, we see all too often and too clearly the devastating effects of
the addiction epidemic and its cruel impact on so many New Englanders and their
families−indeed, on all our communities nationwide,” stated Daniel J. McCormick,
Senior Vice President, Executive Director, Phoenix House New England. “We are
committed to focusing our resources on developing solutions to such a critical
public health issue. We salute Senator Whitehouse for his stalwart leadership and
commitment to the health and well-being of all Americans.”

In addition to hearing from stakeholders, the Senate co-authors of the Comprehensive
Addiction and Recovery Act worked closely with a “working group” of organizations to
craft legislation that would address the substance abuse crisis in a comprehensive
manner. The working group consisted of over 100 organizations—including the
National Council on Behavioral Health, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America,
Major County Sheriffs, Faces and Voices of Recovery, and many others. The objective
was to write a bill designed to incentivize evidence-based best practices and
promote collaboration among all too often silo-ed areas of expertise.

“We in Rhode Island are incredibly fortunate to have such a strong and motivated
champion in Senator Whitehouse,” said Linda Hurley, President and CEO of CODAC
Behavioral Healthcare. “Since it began to take shape in 2014, CARA’s sponsors have
conducted exhaustive research, consultation, and outreach in order to educate
themselves and their colleagues about the chronic disease of addiction. The result
is a strategy that addresses addiction across age, gender, race, ethnicity, and
economic demographics. As a professional working in the field of substance use
disorders for more than 25 years, I have never seen a more thorough, responsible, or
visionary effort to address opioid addiction and overdose than the CARA Bill.”

According to an analysis published last year by the Providence Journal, Rhode
Island’s rate of opioid-related overdose deaths is 20.4 per 100,000 people, compared
to 14.9 in Massachusetts and 15.3 in Connecticut. According to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, the national rate in 2013 was 7.7 deaths per 100,000
people.

A full summary of the final conference report can be accessed
here<http://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/download/cara-conference-report-summary>.