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Senate approves comprehensive drug addiction and recovery bill

The Longest Walk 5 from California to Washington, D.C,. is drawing attention to the drug epidemic in Indian Country. Photo from Longest Walk 5 - War on Drugs / Facebook

The Senate voted 94 to 1 on Thursday to pass S.524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

The bipartisan bill, which boasted 44 sponsors, is the first comprehensive drug treatment and prevention bill since 2008, The New York Times reported. It was written in response to growing rates of abuse, addiction and crime linked to opiods like painkillers and heroin.

"This bill treats addiction like the illness it is. The bill will help states give law enforcement officers, health care providers, family members, and all those on the front lines of this battle a better shot at success,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the lead sponsor, said in a press release.

"We know that the abuse of heroin and prescription drugs is tearing apart families and devastating our communities. This bill will help more Americans put their lives back together and achieve their God-given potential,” added Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was the lead Republican sponsor.

According to Whitehouse and Portman, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will:
• Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers—to prevent the abuse of opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery.
• Make naloxone more widely available to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help in the reversal of overdoses to save lives.
• Provide resources to promptly identify and more effectively treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders.
• Increase the number of disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to keep them out of the hands of our children and adolescents.
• Launch an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions program and promote treatment best practices throughout the country.
• Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion and to help at-risk individuals access services.

The bill also includes Indian Country. For example, tribes are eligible for grants to develop alternative incarceration programs for drug offenders under Section 201.

Under section 202, tribes can receive grants to purchase naloxone kits, which can prevent drug overdose deaths, and train their officers on how to use the kits. Sections 301 and 302 authorize grants to tribes to develop various drug intervention programs.

But Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) said the measure doesn't go far enough to address addiction and treatment in Indian Country. He proposed a series of amendments that would have added tribal-specific programs and blamed Democrats for not including them in the final package.

"We must ensure that Indian Country is not forgotten, which is why I remain committed to finding a path forward to ensure our tribal citizens have greater access to these programs and initiatives," Thune said in a press release.

The House version of the bill is H.R.953.

Get the Story:
Senate Passes Broad Bill to Combat Drug Abuse (The New York Times 3/11)
Senate passes bill to combat heroin, painkiller abuse (The Washington Post 3/10)

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