Final Opioid Package Includes STOP Act, Legislation to Lift IMD Exclusion, the CRIB Act, CARA 2.0 Initiatives to Combat Opioids Crisis 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the Senate floor this afternoon, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said the final House-Senate opioid package, which includes Portman’s bipartisan STOP Act and Improving CARE Act, as well as his bipartisan CRIB Act and a number of initiatives from his bipartisan CARA 2.0 Act, is a “turning point” in the effort to combat the opioids crisis.  The House passed the bill last week. The Senate passed it today by a vote of 98 to 1 and now it will be sent to the president’s desk for his signature 

Portman stated, “To those I represent who are struggling with addiction, to those who have friends or loved ones who struggle or continue to struggle with addiction and to the millions of people in communities across this country who have been crippled by this crisis, this legislation is the turning point. It is a glimmer of hope. It’s a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.” 

You can read his full remarks below and a video can be found here.

  

“Mr. President, today the United States Senate is going to vote on legislation that is representative of years of work that has been done to help address the opioid crisis. That vote will occur here in about a half an hour, and it’s historic legislation. It’s legislation that was put together by the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis to answer some of the pleas and calls from our communities back home, pleas from people saying, ‘can’t you do more to help us reverse the tide of this opioid epidemic?’ 

“I’d like to start by thanking and commending Senator Lamar Alexander for putting together this legislation, taking the work from five different committees of Congress -- the HELP Committee, Judiciary Committee, Finance Committee, Banking Committee, Commerce Committee -- putting those different legislative projects together along with projects that have come over from the House. 70 members of this body have contributed to this legislation. This legislation is important because, although Congress acted a couple of years ago, unfortunately, the problem has gotten worse, not better, and we’ve learned more. The last major legislation we passed here on the opioid legislation was about two years ago. By the way, during those two years I’m told that I have been on this floor 56 times talking about this issue, talking about how the legislation we passed is working or not working, talking about stories from back home, talking about the need to implement the legislation we passed in a more expeditious way because of this problem, talking about the urgency and talking about having the necessary funding. 

“And here’s the good news -- we have increased funding dramatically. And the two bills we passed in 2016 are beginning to work. One is called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that I co-authored with Senator Whitehouse. The other is called the CURES legislation. Both of them help. CARA, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, has grants that go directly to nonprofits, to programs that work, that are evidence-based, to help on prevention and education, treatment, longer-term recovery, to help our responders. The 21st Century CURES provides grants that go directly to the states from the federal government and then back to the programs that states think work best for them. These funds that are unprecedented along with these two laws are helping. They’re helping to make the federal government a better partner with state and local government, with nonprofits to combat this crisis. 

“I’ve been all over my state to see how these programs are working and I’ve spoken on the floor a lot about the people I’ve met who have been helped, some of the cases of hope, cases where somebody who stepped forward to take advantage of one of these programs and found the treatment that worked for him or her. I’ve also talked about the need for us to do more. That’s why earlier this year, again on a bipartisan basis, we introduced CARA 2.0, to learn from what we are seeing back home, what is working and not working with the first legislation, and to move it forward. The legislation we’re about to vote on this afternoon includes a number of provisions of CARA 2.0. And I appreciate that. And again I thank my colleagues for including those and the leadership for bringing this to the floor. 

“It also includes some other legislation I think is really important. And, unfortunately, again we’ve got to do it. 72,000 -- that’s the number of Americans who died from opioid and other drug overdoses last year. That’s in one year more people that have died than in the entire Vietnam War. Opioids were the number one cause of death. Within opioids, the number one cause of death was fentanyl, the synthetic form of opioids. Even though we’ve made progress in the legislation I’m talking about, we have this record level of overdose deaths in my home state and in our country. I believe one major reason for that is that despite doing a better job on prevention and treatment and longer-term recovery, we’ve had this influx of a new, deadly drug. This is the fentanyl influx. It comes mostly from China. It comes mostly through our Postal Service. It is the number one killer right now in my state and probably the number one killer in the country in terms of drugs. In Ohio, there’s been a 4,000 percent increase in the last five years in fentanyl overdoses and deaths. It’s inexpensive, cheap. It’s deadly. It’s 50 times more powerful than heroin. A few specks of it can kill you. Because it’s synthetic, there seems to be a limitless supply. We need to push back. 

“One thing this legislation before us today does is it says, we’re going to stop having our Postal Service be the conduit for this poison coming into our communities. It is about time. The legislation is very simple. It says that this loophole where you can send this deadly poison through the mail system is going to be closed because we’re going to say that now the Post Office has to provide law enforcement the information in advance, electronically, that all the other private carriers already have to provide. We spent two years investigating this. One thing we found in our Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was the dealers, the traffickers, were saying if you send it through the Postal Service, delivery is guaranteed because they don’t have the screening in the Postal Service. We’re going to have that screening now. The STOP Act is important. It will serve as a tourniquet stemming the flow of these record levels of overdose deaths, and endangering anyone including first responders and mail carriers who come in contact with it. This is important because it pushes back on the supply, but that’s not all we have to do. 

“We have to do a better job in terms of getting people into treatment to be able to overcome their addiction. This legislation we’re about to vote on does that as well. It includes a bipartisan proposal I introduced with a group of colleagues recently to expand Americans’ access to treatment by lifting what’s called the IMD, or Institutions for Mental Disease exclusion. This is how it works. It’s an outdated policy. It’s a vestige of a policy from years ago to try to discourage institutional care which was well-meaning at the time. But this is what it does today. It says in a residential treatment setting -- and some of them are doing a great job -- you’re limited to 16 beds if you want Medicaid reimbursement. One of the most heartbreaking things I do as a senator is talk to parents, families, or loved ones of people who died who wanted to get into treatment but were turned away and told there is no more room for them. I talked to a father and mother whose daughter went to treatment. They turned her away because there wasn’t room. In the two weeks while she was on the waiting list, what happened? She used heroin. She overdosed and she died. She was ready but they weren’t ready for her. This legislation will help prevent that and allow more people who are ready to overcome their addiction get into a treatment center and get the form of treatment that’s right for them. 

“Significantly, the final version that we’ll vote on today agreed to by the House and Senate is an improvement from the House-passed legislation because it now is covering any kind of substance abuse. Not just opioids. Not just cocaine. Not just crystal meth. Not just alcohol. But any kind of substance abuse. That’s very important. All of them are problems in our community. Crystal meth has increased in a lot of areas in Ohio even as we’ve made progress against opioids. This legislation will ensure that once people get into treatment it is up to the high standards and the standards of best care that we all want. It includes several provisions that we’ve been working on to do that. One is the national quality standards and best practices for recovery housing so people who are transitioning out of treatment into longer-term recovery have high-quality housing options that eliminate the gaps that so often occur in recovery. It also helps young people struggling with addiction by authorizing support programs for high schools and colleges. We’ve got some great examples of this in Ohio spreading around the country. Support groups in colleges and high schools to focus on people who are already addicted but also to act as a further encouragement for people who want to come and learn more about this for their prevention and education. It will help provide resources and care for some of the most vulnerable affected by this crisis. 

“There’s $60 million in this legislation for babies who are born dependent to these drugs. These are babies who have neonatal abstinence syndrome because their mom was addicted and was using while they were in the womb. They come out needing to go through withdrawal themselves. They need more help. We don’t know what the impact will be longer-term but we know hospitals across this country are being filled with these babies, innocent babies who need our help. It also has the CRIB Act included in this legislation -- a bipartisan bill, I co-authored that will help newborns suffering from addiction recover in the best setting possible for them. It allows reimbursement for these great organizations like Brigid’s Path back home in Dayton, Ohio, where people provide care to these kids whose parents are addicted. They aren’t in foster care yet but they need this care in transition to be able to ensure their longer-term success. 

“Finally it authorizes some really important programs. Drug Courts, which are working to get people who are incarcerated into treatment. Drug-Free Community prevention grants, which are helping to push back in our high schools and middle schools and even elementary schools. High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, HIDTA grants, which focus the federal government working more with state and local government on drug interdiction. 

“This opioid epidemic has gripped my state of Ohio. We’re among those states hardest hit. But every state in this chamber has been hit, and it’s personal. It’s personal for all of us because we’ve all heard the stories. On Monday before I came here to vote in this chamber, I went to a funeral of a young man whose family I have known my entire life. His mom, who I’ve known since I was born, was heartbroken talking about his opioid addiction and talking about everything they tried to do to get over this. We talked about it as a disease, which it is. This young man’s life was cut way too short. I shared in their heartbreak, mourning his beautiful life cut short by addiction. I’m tired of reading about the tragedies like this one in the news, hearing it from friends and families and watching the devastation caused by opioids across my state. 

“We do need to do more to turn this tide. And I believe this legislation will help. In the midst of this opioid epidemic, we’ve got to do more to cut off the supply of these deadly drugs. That’s done here. We need to do more to close the gaps that occur in treatment. That’s part of this. We need to do more to catch those who fall through the cracks and help those gripped by addiction get into treatment and get on to lives of meaning and purpose, a life with purpose. 

“To those I represent who are struggling with addiction, to those who have friends or loved ones who struggle or continue to struggle with addiction and to the millions of people in communities across this country who have been crippled by this crisis, this legislation is the turning point. It is a glimmer of hope. It’s a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. It won’t solve all the problems. Ultimately those problems are going to come from our communities, from our families, from within our own hearts. But this legislation will help by allowing law enforcement to stop the flow of these deadly drugs, allowing people ready to turn their lives around to get treatment and support and allowing our communities to begin to heal. I urge all my colleagues to support this legislation this afternoon.” 

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