July 14th, 2016
Yesterday, in a rare instance of bipartisanship, the Senate passed CARA by a 92-2 vote after the same passed just as easily in the House last week. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which came to be known as CARA begins to turn the government away from the war on drugs tactics and mass incarceration and more towards viewing addiction as a disease.
Many organizations, including Truth Pharm, have spent time advocating for the bill, writing letters, signing petitions, making calls and spending time on the hill speaking to our political leaders about supporting the bill. Not only the bill though, but the budgetary means to support the bill and to put the plans presented into action.
We are proud to say that Senator Chuck Schumer in upstate New York vocalized his concerns regarding the passage of the bill without funding stating, “we believe you’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
I was fortunate to hear Congressman Paul Tonko of New York’s Capital Region speak in Albany at a forum with Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Rep. Tonko said, as a governmental representative, he was sick to death of having family after family tell their heartbreaking stories of losing their loved one to this epidemic. He was tired of having elected officials parade our grief with little to no real action. He said, “we must respond in earnest to these gut wrenching stories.” He said that means providing FUNDING for CARA, not just passing it. “Passage without funding means nothing,” he said.
President Obama estimated that to fully implement the plans put forth by CARA, we would need $1.1 billion dollars. Last week, Democrats pushed to include at least $900 million in the passage of the bill to support implementation. Those numbers should not surprise anyone. This is a national health crisis.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. CARA passed, but lacks the funding needed to implement the proposed methods to address the epidemic.
So, while we celebrate the passage of this incredible bill that is a desperately needed change of direction, we are saddened and a little sickened that it is being celebrated and bragged about by so many who voted down the funding to support it.
Shame. We are partners with other organizations and have been involved in the conversations trying to decide if they should issue a statement of gratitude for the passage of CARA or state the truth; this is a bill of empty promise. We have grappled with the same.
This is a national health crisis. One which the government had a hand in starting by being irresponsible with their duties at the FDA and one which they perpetuate by a lack of response. We have a pharmaceutical industry outpacing all others in profit while our death tolls climb at a parallel rate. The government has been aware of this issue for at least a decade and is just now responding. States are scrambling to put controls in place to limit the prescribing of narcotic painkillers since the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility. As limits are put in place, the supply of heroin simply increases and the death toll slope gets a little steeper and the government can’t manage to capture even 10% of the heroin that comes into our country, per their own data.
The death toll of this epidemic has surpassed (by far) that of the AIDS epidemic and with less response. We have families going into debt, losing their savings, retirement, health, peace and sanity while their children are dying before their eyes. We get denials from insurance companies, discrimination from hospitals, inadequate and outdated treatment or provided no beds at all. The jails are filling, our children have a disease we cannot get treatment for, children are being orphaned and the path of destruction gets wider each day. It will be generations before we recover from the damage of this man made, doctor condoned, FDA approved, pharmaceutical windfall of an epidemic.
And our government has decided to wait several more months before funding the best chance we’ve had at turning this epidemic around. Another six months. Another 50,000 lives. More orphans. More incarceration. More people suffering with a disease we are not treating.
At the end of the day, we decided, the truth must be told.