Udall Joins Senate In Approving Bill To Combat Heroin And Prescription Drug Abuse

From the Office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

Will keep fighting for funding for New Mexico communities battling addiction crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall joined the Senate in voting 92-2 Wednesday night for a final agreement on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bill that promises additional programs and resources to help prevent prescription opioid and heroin abuse. Udall has long worked to increase funding and support for people battling addiction—particularly prescription drug abuse, which is too often a gateway to heroin use.

The legislation, which passed the House last week and now is headed to the president’s desk, is a compromise bill worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Although he voted for the compromise agreement today, Udall said he would have preferred a stronger version of CARA with emergency funding attached and that he will continue to fight to help communities battling addiction.

“Communities in New Mexico and across our nation are battling an epidemic of prescription drug abuse that is wrecking lives and families,” Udall said. “I supported this bill because it takes important steps in providing addiction treatment for women, families and veterans, strengthens consumer education and encourages states to offer comprehensive treatment options. But I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It doesn’t include emergency funds that can go to work immediately to help save the lives of the more than 100 people who die from overdoses each day. Our commitment has to be equal to the crisis, and I will continue to fight for funding as a member of the Appropriations Committee. We shouldn’t delay funding when lives, families and communities are at stake.”

The final agreement on CARA authorizes — or directs the government to spend — an additional $181 million for drug abuse and treatment programs, but because CARA is not a funding bill, the money will need to be appropriated later through separate legislation. The bill also creates systematic guidance for treating opioid addiction among veterans receiving care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it will help ensure that newborns born to opioid-addicted mothers can receive the most effective treatment.

Udall worked earlier this year to add a measure to the legislation, which would have put more funds into block grant programs to directly aid health and law enforcement professionals, primarily the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program. New Mexico could have received an estimated $3 million in additional funding to combat substance abuse — however, Senate Republicans blocked the attempt. 

Udall also strongly supports the president’s request for $1.1 billion in new funding for the opioid crisis, on which Republicans have yet to act.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, New Mexico had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation. Last year, Udall reintroduced the Increasing the Safety of Prescription Drug Use Act to expand access to treatment options for addicted patients, strengthen training for medical professionals and increase abuse prevention opportunities. Two of the priorities from his legislation, enabling nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment and expanding the availability of naloxone for overdose reversal, are reflected in the final agreement on CARA.

Udall has previously taken to the Senate floor to highlight the toll this crisis has taken on New Mexicans and the cost of inaction. 

“Addiction knows no boundaries—race, gender, or background,” Udall said. “Addiction is a deadly disease that cannot be solved simply by throwing victims in jail. We must do everything in our power to prevent drug abuse before it starts and ensure that anybody who wants or needs treatment gets it.”