I wanted to share with you an update on my efforts to combat the heroin and prescription opioid abuse crisis facing New Hampshire and our nation.
This is the most urgent public health and safety challenge our state is facing, and I've been listening to families, treatment providers, first responders, and others in the community as we work to identify effective strategies to combat this epidemic.
As New Hampshire's former Attorney General, I have seen firsthand the negative consequences of illicit drug use and drug-related crimes, and I am working to ensure that law enforcement officials have the necessary tools to do their jobs and respond to this problem. While law enforcement is working tirelessly to get drugs off the streets, we can't arrest our way out of this problem. We need more prevention efforts, more treatment options, and more support for individuals in recovery.
In the Senate, I have been leading several legislative solutions, in addition to bringing together health care professionals, law enforcement and first responders, and members of the treatment and recovery communities at forums around the state to share experiences and feedback. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I recently chaired a field hearing with Senator Shaheen which focused on this issue. I invited the Director of National Drug Control Policy and other top federal officials to New Hampshire to participate, and they heard directly from law enforcement, a grieving father of a fatal overdose victim, and a treatment provider about what they're experiencing in our communities.
This input has helped guide my approach to fighting this crisis on all fronts. Working with a diverse coalition of senators, I have introduced and cosponsored several pieces of bipartisan legislation to bolster prevention efforts, provide more treatment options, and support individuals in recovery. Following are some of my legislative priorities:
•I helped reintroduce the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) to provide a series of incentives and resources designed to encourage states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies to combat substance use disorders and support individuals in recovery. Specifically, S. 524 would expand prevention and educational efforts - particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and aging populations - to prevent the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery. The bill would also increase resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from substance use disorders by collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders and by providing evidence-based treatment.
•Working with Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), I introduced the bipartisan Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act (S. 1134), which aims to stop the abuse of prescription pain medication while also giving law enforcement the tools and resources they need to prevent heroin use and addiction. Specifically, the bill would create an Inter-Agency Task Force responsible for developing best practices in pain medication prescribing and related pain management. The bill would also reauthorize the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program to help law enforcement combat heroin. Our bill would also authorize funding for the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a competitive grant program that assists states in the planning, implementation, and enhancement of their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
•A tragic result of the growing opioid abuse epidemic that has too often been overlooked is the increasing number of infants born dependent on opioids or suffering withdrawal. That is why I cosponsored the bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 (S. 799), which would call for the development of recommendations to prevent and treat prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). The bill would also call on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist states in data collection and increased surveillance to better monitor the prevalence and causes of NAS. I'm pleased to report that S. 799 passed the Senate on October 22, 2015.
•Recognizing the increasing role that fentanyl is playing in fatal overdoses, I introduced the Stop Trafficking in Fentanyl Act (S. 2027) to reform trafficking penalties for fentanyl, ensuring that the law appropriately reflects the potency of this drug and its increasing prevalence in drug overdose deaths. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Yet the threshold amount to invoke penalties in fentanyl trafficking is not appropriately reflected under current law. The Stop Trafficking in Fentanyl Act would simply bring parity to the penalties for trafficking in heroin and the much more potent fentanyl, which will improve efforts to remove it from the streets and appropriately prosecute those individuals and organizations who are profiting from selling it.
•I worked successfully to include an amendment in the fiscal year (FY) 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 113-291) that devotes additional resources to the detection, monitoring, and interdiction of illicit trafficking across our Southern Border. Additionally, I successfully included an amendment to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that will better enable the United States to counter drug tunnels under the southwest border.
•During consideration of the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), I worked with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to include two bipartisan measures to better assist students dealing with substance abuse issues at home. Both would encourage local decision-makers to provide professional development, training, and technical assistance to schools in communities affected by addiction crises.
•I am cosponsoring the bipartisan Second Chance Act Reauthorization Act (S. 1513) to support reentry programs, like substance abuse treatment programs, that can reduce recidivism rates.
•I worked across the aisle with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to help reintroduce the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act of 2015 (S. 707), which would provide liability protections to properly trained individuals who administer an opioid overdose reversal drug, such as naloxone, in an emergency situation when someone has overdosed.
•In order to make sure those who are struggling with addiction are able to access treatment, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and I led a bipartisan group of senators in calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor to take immediate, overdue action to fully implement and enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). In the letter, we emphasized that implementation of MHPAEA - signed into law more than seven years ago to ensure that health insurance plans cover behavioral and physical health equally - has been incomplete and inconsistent. In response to concerns from New Hampshire residents, I am also urging the five major U.S. health insurers and the U.S. Government Accountability Office to ensure the MHPAEA is properly implemented and enforced.
I'll continue my work to advance these legislative initiatives and look for ways to collaborate with and strengthen state and local efforts to combat this growing epidemic. Together, we can find effective solutions that will help save lives, strengthen families, and improve our communities.
United States Senator