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The National Voice of Clinical Social Work 

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Legislative Updates

08 Mar 2016 7:30 PM | CSWA Administrator (Administrator)

There is a flurry of activity in Congress this week about how to finally provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders which have plagued the country for many years and have reached a crisis point.

The Senate voted 86-3 yesterday to advance the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, S. 524/H.R. 953, (CARA,!cara/cix2), which would allow the attorney general to give money to programs that strengthen prescription drug monitoring, improve treatment for addicts, and expand prevention and education initiatives. There are many amendments still to be voted upon. A vote on final passage of the bill is expected later this week. 

The bill, introduced by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has not yet been taken up by the House. An identical bill has been offered in that chamber by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

Drug overdose has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid addiction is driving the epidemic, with nearly 19,000 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and nearly 10,600 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014. The rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013 as many prescription drug abusers turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative that is easier to obtain, the society said.

The main objection to this bill is that tasking the attorney general with distributing the treatment, prevention, monitoring and education programs the bill contains is not the best way to determine what funding is needed; that the attorney general does not have the $600 million that will be needed to implement this bill; and that this ties the bill to law enforcement instead of treatment.  Senate leadership has claimed that earlier block grant funding can be used by states that choose to follow through on this bill.  CSWA sees this bill as unfunded, well-intentioned as it is, and will work to find the roughly $600 million the bill will require to implement.

Another bill called the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 is being developed by Sens. Murray (D-WA), Murphy (D-CT), Alexander (R-TN), and Cassidy (R-LA).  The hope is that this bill will include much of the bill developed by Sens. Murphy and Cassidy, S. 1945, as well as incorporate strengthening SAMHSA, and integrate programs designed to address the substance abuse problems which have been receiving the bulk of attention this week.

CSWA will continue to provide information on how these bills evolve and work to fund them adequately.

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