We Must Eradicate Heroin and Opioid Abuse in Our Communities
Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)
The rise of drug abuse, addiction, and crime related to the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic is a deadly and destructive scourge that must be directly combatted and eradicated. Too many lives have been cut short; too many families ripped apart. No parent should ever have to bury their child for any reason, especially because they were suffering from a drug addiction and could not get the help they desperately needed. This problem is not going away unless something bold and massive is done that squashes this plague at the root of its source.
Our communities and families on Long Island have been especially impacted by the rise of prescription drug abuse and the growing heroin epidemic. As such, it is so important that we ensure every available resource is utilized to eradicate drug abuse from our neighborhoods. A key aspect of achieving this objective involves collaborative efforts with local elected officials, law enforcement, health professionals, community groups, parents, concerned residents and those in recovery, to discuss and develop localized community based solutions to tackle this crisis, by increasing treatment, recovery services, and education.
To further support our communities as they take on this challenge, I was proud to have cosponsored and helped pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), or CARA, in the last Congress. This critical legislation provides a total of $8.3 billion in funding over five years to help combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, and funds many initiatives on the local level. This includes $103 million over the five year authorization of the bill to establish a community-based competitive grant program to address and treat the challenges associated with heroin and opioid addiction and abuse, $160 million in funding over the authorization period for newly created treatment programs, the expansion of existing medically assisted treatments, and specialized treatment programs for pregnant women, veterans, and children through community based initiatives, and so much more.
Improving access and affordability of healthcare in America is another critical aspect of this fight. Addiction is a disease, and it should be treated as such. Unless we systematically and proactively restructure our existing options in healthcare positively, many Americans suffering from drug addiction will never recover. This includes ensuring access to insurance policies which cover long term treatment for those who desperately need it. Too often, those suffering from drug addiction are unable to receive the continuous coverage required for true recovery, and tragically lose their lives as a result.
I have also made it a priority to ensure that our communities are provided with higher supplies of Naloxone, or Narcan, a life saving medication that is safe and easy to administer, and has been proven to reverse an overdose within minutes. In addition to a provision of CARA which gives additional funding for a greater community supply of Narcan, I was a strong cosponsor of the Stop Overdose Stat (SOS) Act (H.R. 2850) in the 114th Congress which would provide an additional $25 million over a 5 year period for production and distribution to make sure that medical professionals and families have it in their possession, and are trained and ready to administer it. However, we must be sure that those who are saved by Narcan do not just return right away to using again and are immediately provided with the help needed to fully recover.
Through the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 244), bipartisan legislation which recently passed the House, $3.6 billion will be provided to aid in the implementation of CARA. The bill funds the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) at $130.5 million above the previous Administration’s budget request to aid in these efforts, while maintaining robust funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant at $1.8 billion. In addition, $500 million in funding will be authorized through the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34); bipartisan legislation which was passed and signed into law at the end of the last Congress. This provides a total increase of $650 million for initiatives to address the opioid crisis. I also announced last week that, through H.R. 244, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made available over $70 million in community based grants to combat this threat, which includes $28 million in funding for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help treat those suffering.
In addition to providing vital funding for treatment and education efforts, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to secure our borders against those who bring in illicit substances which have wrecked havoc within our communities. It is good news that H.R. 244 also includes $1.5 billion in increased funding for border security to strengthen infrastructure and technology, and improve Border Patrol hiring initiatives. As part of a legislative package to combat drug abuse, several bills to cut the flow of drugs coming into our nation have passed the House. This includes H.R. 3380, a bill to help law enforcement officials identify and target drug traffickers, as well as the Kingpin Designation Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 4985) to further combat narcotics trafficking, by allowing for easier prosecution of these criminals.
Addiction is a devastating disease that takes lives, tears families apart, and destroys our communities. The heroin and opioid abuse crisis has severely impacted our local community and has become a major issue across the country. It must be stopped. This is an effort that must be addressed at all levels of government. In Congress, I’ll continue working to advance legislation that helps those coping with drug addiction, by increasing treatment and recovery services to stop the tragic loss of life, family, and community as a result of addiction. This problem is far too serious to ignore, fail and not confront head on boldly and massively. I’ve personally been to too many wakes and funerals for young men and women who have lost their lives way too early and sadly. There remains so many lives that can still be saved.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York. The Congressman serves as a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic in the House of Representatives, which focuses on finding solutions to this crisis, spreading awareness and increasing educational efforts.