Senate Voting Monday on Bill That Addresses Opioid Addiction, But Not Heroin Smuggling

By Susan Jones | February 29, 2016 | 11:46 AM EST

A drug addict prepares a needle to inject himself with heroin in front of a church in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. (AP File Photo)

( - The Senate on Monday will take up a bipartisan bill addressing the nation's growing demand for painkillers and heroin, but not the easy supply coming in from Mexico and points south.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (S.524), introduced by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), states that "The abuse of heroin and prescription pain-killers is having a devastating effect on public health and safety in communities across the United States."

Although the bill briefly mentions "Mexican drug trafficking organizations" as one explanation for the epidemic, it does not address ways to choke off the supply. Instead, it authorizes hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to address the demand-side of the problem.

In addition to treatment programs, the bill addresses the negative fallout for those who abuse drugs. For example, the bill would establish treatment programs as alternatives to prison; and it expands the use of naloxone to save heroin overdose victims.

Just last week, in testimony before the House intelligence committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper specifically mentioned "drug trafficking" among the threats facing the United States.

"The Southwest border seizures of heroin in the United States have doubled since 2010," Clapper said in his prepared statement. "Over 10,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2014 -- much of it laced with Fentanyl, which is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. In that same year, more than 28,000 died from opioid overdoses. Cocaine production in Colombia, from which most U.S. supplies originate, has increased significantly."

Congress, in the bill's text, devotes one paragraph to the supply problem, noting that "the supply of cheap heroin available in the United States has increased dramatically...largely due to the activity of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The Drug Enforcement Administration...estimates that heroin seizures at the Mexican border have more than doubled since 2010, and heroin production in Mexico increased 62 percent from 2013 to 2014. While only 8 percent of State and local law enforcement officials across the United States identified heroin as the greatest drug threat in their area in 2008, that number rose to 38 percent in 2015."

The bill before the Senate has seven sections.

Title I covers "prevention and education," including the"development of "best prescribing practices"; a national education campaign; and grants to address "ocal drug crises."

Title II focuses on law enforcement, including treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration; and training police to administer naloxone to save the lives of people who overdose. This section also calls for expansion of prescription drug take-back programs to keep surplus drugs away from young people.

Title III covers treatment and intervention. It calls for a national youth recovery initiative (including drug rehab in high schools and colleges), and "building comunities of recovery."

Title IV addresses "collateral consequences" of opioid abuse, including expanded educational opportunities and job training in the nation's prisons.

Title V specifically addresses addiction and treatment services for women (including pregnant and parenting female offenders) and veterans.

Title VI offers incentives to the states to address opioid and heroin addiction by establishing a "comprehensive response to opioid abuse."

Title VII addresses money to carry out the program: "It is the sense of Congress that the amounts expended to carry out this Act and the amendments madeby this Act should be offset by a corresponding reduction in Federal non-defense discretionary spending."

The amounts mentioned in the bill are "authorized" but not appropriated.

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would specifically authorize the appropriation of $312 million over the 2016-2021 period for various federal programs. The bill also would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award as much sa $413 million in grants over the 2017-2021 period through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Senate on Monday afternoon will consider a motion to proceed to S. 524.

“This legislation will give the teachers, law enforcement officers, health care providers, family members, and all those on the front lines of this battle the tools they need to fight back," Sen. Whitehouse said in a message on his website.

In an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Monday, Sen. Portman said Congress can and must help prevent overdose deaths.

He noted that babies are too often the victims of this addiction:  "Helping these babies is just one aspect of this bill, but a very critical one, as we work to turn the tide in the struggle against addiction."

Portman also said "bipartisan support for the bill is growing."

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