Obama Signs Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016

Almost five months after requesting $1.1 billion from Congress to fight addiction, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016. The bipartisan law authorized $181 million in new funding to expand prevention efforts, training programs and treatment access.

Deaths from drug overdoses doubled from 2000 to 2014, and a record 47,000 people died drug-related deaths in 2014. Opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers accounted for 61 percent of those deaths.

“This comprehensive bill lays the groundwork to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic.”

Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America

In February, the White House announced several initiatives to address the opioid epidemic in communities across the country. However, Obama said CARA included only “modest steps to address the opioid epidemic.”

“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans failed to provide any real resources for those seeking addiction treatment to get the care that they need,” Obama said in a statement. “In fact, they blocked efforts by Democrats to include $920 million in treatment funding.”

Democrats in the House and Senate had attempted secure up to $920 million in funding, but the Republican-controlled Congress blocked the addition of multiple funding efforts.

Republicans have said there will be opportunities to find funding in the future.

“This is an authorization bill,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told the New York Times when the Senate approved the final version of CARA in July. “It authorizes more money than we’ve ever even dreamed about for opioids.”

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In July, Senate Democrats had proposed $600 million in emergency funding, but Republicans barred the last-ditch effort.

“What it says is this: that colleagues on the other side of the aisle are more interested in showing voters they’re doing something about opioids than actually doing something,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on the Senate floor.

Despite funding issues, many experts believe CARA will enhance prevention and treatment efforts across the nation. Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, praised policymakers for enacting the law.

“CARA recognizes the vital importance of prevention and provides critical enhancement grants to current and former Drug-Free Communities grantees to combat prescription drug and methamphetamine abuse in their communities,” Dean said in a statement. “This comprehensive bill lays the groundwork to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic.”

What CARA Does

The Senate passed the first version of CARA on March 10, and the House passed a companion bill titled the Comprehensive Opioid Reduction Act on May 12. The legislative bodies developed a compromise bill at a July 6 conference, which the House approved July 8 and the Senate approved July 13.

Obama signed the final product July 22.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 strengthens support for a variety of prevention and education measures, including:

  • Community-based drug prevention coalitions
  • Educational materials related to youth sports injuries
  • Assisting veterans in receiving civilian health care certifications
  • National Institutes of Health research on opioids
  • State-administered prescription drug monitoring programs
  • Expanding access to opioid overdose reversal medications

The act charges the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with developing recommendations for including pediatric information on opioid labels and issuing guidance for opioids prescribers, and it requires the Department of Health and Human Services to create a Pain Management Task Force. The task force will establish best practices for practicing pain management and prescribing pain medications.

CARA also supports law enforcement initiatives such as:

  • The development, implementation or expansion of incarceration alternative programs.
  • The expansion of drug overdose reversal medication training programs.
  • The creation of heroin and methamphetamine task forces.
  • The expansion of access to prescription drug take back programs.

Other initiatives and mandates under CARA reach a variety of sectors. Key measures include:

  • Support for the research and development of evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment programs.
  • Expansion of recovery communities.
  • Expansion of medication-assisted treatment for addiction.
  • Studying outcomes of incarceration for minor drug-related offenses.
  • Improving treatment for women, families and veterans.
  • Studying good Samaritan laws.
  • Improving the Department of Veterans Affairs’ addiction treatment programs for veterans.

Obama said combatting the opioid epidemic would be a top priority for his administration in his final year in office, and Democrats and Republicans have worked together to pass laws at the state and national level.

“I’m going to continue fighting to secure the funding families desperately need,” Obama said. “In recent days, the law enforcement community, advocates, physicians, and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have also joined in this call. Now, it’s up to Republicans to finish the job and provide adequate funding to deal with this public health crisis. That’s what the American people deserve.”

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