Lawmakers in Congress appear to be finding some common ground when it comes to dealing with the heroin and opioid addiction crisis.
But how much money will actually be put toward funding treatment and prevention programs remains a sticking point.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who’s been working on this issue, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to give an update on where things stand.
The House passed a package of bills last week related to the opioid crisis. This comes two months after the Senate passed a comprehensive bill you co-sponsored.
So while there are proposals in the works, is there any frustration with the time it’s taking to get something to the president’s desk?
Yes, our bill passed 94-1, and not much happens in the Senate 94-1. I had hoped they were going to take it up sooner, but obviously I’m glad they’re doing it now. They passed separate bills – about 18 bills – and there are a couple of areas that I’m concerned about. I hope in the conference we really adopt the Senate version because ours was a comprehensive approach, especially in the areas of prevention and support for recovery. I think those are areas that certainly need more direction from what the House did.
The debate seems to come down to funding. You and Senator Shaheen both supported $600 million in emergency funding to address the epidemic.
Absolutely. There needs to be more resources and we’re in the appropriations process right now. Recently, the commerce-justice appropriations bill did have some additional resources for pieces of this, but my hope is as we conference this bill between the House and the Senate, we really take a comprehensive approach. And then also address the funding piece of it, especially as we’re doing these appropriations bills, to put the money behind more treatment capacity, prevention, recovery. And obviously I think support for our first responders and what they’re trying to do to get out there, administer Narcan, save lives.
But Republicans in the Senate killed that measure, so as you work toward a final proposal, how do you convince lawmakers to support that funding?
I will say I think there’s an opportunity. Some did not support it because it was designated as emergency funding and even the administration has not designated this as an emergency, although Sen. Shaheen and I have asked them to. So I think that was one of the sticking points. But in the regular appropriations process, I think there’s an opportunity for lawmakers to back up what they all voted for. And that’s what I think hopefully will happen and I’ve been pushing for. We did see some additional funding at the end of the year funding bill last year, and I think we need to build on that and obviously enhance it so that New Hampshire gets additional support and other states that are struggling with this epidemic, as well.
You’re scheduled to question federal officials Tuesday on the steps they’ve taken to combat drug trafficking and substance abuse. What are you looking to hear from them?
I’m looking to hear from them on a number of areas. First of all, I’m going to focus to some extent with Director Michael Botticelli on what discussions he’s been having and also with officials from Homeland Security on the southern border, because that’s the source. It’s coming over the border from the Mexican drug cartels. So what have we been doing with Mexico and what efforts we’re taking there from the Department of Homeland Security perspective to increase interdiction as we’re addressing the other issues, like prevention and treatment.
I’d also like to know about efforts to continue to engage the medical community. I know that the state has taken some steps and so has federal Health and Human Services on the issue of prescribing opiates. The national data shows now 4 out of 5 people start with misusing or abusing prescription drugs. So that’s an important conversation.
And then also fentanyl; how it’s getting in. It can be 50 times more powerful than heroin. We know it’s a huge driver of the deaths we’ve had in New Hampshire. I’d like to know what additional steps these officials are taking to reduce the production and trafficking of fentanyl and what we can do to address this deadly drug.
One issue for people here in New Hampshire has been insurance plans refusing to cover substance abuse treatment. Are there regulations or changes to laws you would support there?
I’ll address that today and that’s also a piece of the bills that I’ve been supporting under the parity law. You should be able to receive the treatment for a substance use disorder and mental illness and the parity law is very important in that regard. I’m actually supporting legislation to have that be enforced more evenly and fully as was intended. I’ve also worked across the aisle with Chris Murphy of Connecticut. We’ve directly asked for a GAO study of how it’s being enforced.