House Passes CARA To Address National Opioid Epidemic, Funding Remains An Issue

By John Lavitt 07/12/16

The revised bipartisan addiction and recovery legislation was also passed in the Senate this week.

House Passes CARA To Address National Opioid Epidemic, Funding Remains An Issue
US House of Representatives

Signaling a step in the right direction, the House of Representatives voted 407-5 to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) on July 8. But despite the sweeping bipartisan support of the Obama administration’s response to the national opioid epidemic, CARA still lacks funding. Nevertheless, combined with additional bipartisan support from the Senate, the bill is expected to be ready for President Obama’s signature by next week.

Many Democrats initially refused to sign CARA on account of the lack of funding for treatment services in the proposed plan. President Obama’s proposed $1.1 billion in funding to combat the opioid epidemic is not reflected in the CARA legislation. The current bill authorizes $181 million in new spending.

Given the gap in funding, the White House reportedly urged the Democratic majority in the House to “slow down” the approval process. The goal was to pressure the Republicans to approve, and thus include funding for CARA within the actual legislation. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer tried his best to make it happen, saying, “We believe you’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And doing all these changes without funding? Law enforcement needs more funding, treatment needs more funding.” 

Realizing that something needed to be done, Democrats in the House put the funding fight aside for another day and chose to support the bill. With serious reservations, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey announced just minutes before the vote that he had decided to support the package. Pallone illuminated the reasoning behind his eventual decision, “It is not perfect, and does not do nearly enough from a funding perspective, but it makes some important steps that will allow us to begin to address the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting our nation.” He explained, however, that CARA “is only a small step at a time when the American people need us to run.”

Despite the obvious lack of funding, CARA represents significant advances to help people across the country struggling with opioid dependence, misuse and addiction. The CARA legislation includes proactive steps to help in the following ways:

1. Expanding the availability of Narcan (naloxone) to prevent overdoses and save lives

2. Increasing the number of drug prevention and education programs in schools and communities

3. Improving collaboration with law enforcement and criminal justice systems, including an expansion of drug courts

4. Providing local disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to be safely turned in

5. Increasing availability of treatment including evidence-based and medication-assisted programs

Beyond CARA, the White House is introducing a new policy through the Department of Health and Human Services that gives doctors more leeway in prescribing both buprenorphine and Suboxone. The White House believes that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an important first step in getting control over the spread of the epidemic. Although not a long-term recovery solution, it can help stop people under the sway of opioid dependence and addiction from using. 

Among recovery advocates and treatment professionals, CARA is being celebrated with cautious optimism. Not wanting to focus on past regrets, there remains a sense that the legislation feels like too little, too late. Nevertheless, with CARA in place, the hope is that Congress and the White House will be open to introducing further reforms to stop the deadliest national substance abuse epidemic since the days of prohibition.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.