Across Kentucky, people are now routinely dying from the abuse of prescription pain pills and heroin. More than 1,000 Kentuckians die every year from drug overdose, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. That’s more than are lost to fatal car crashes. This problem rips families apart and ravages our communities—and the rate of drug abuse is growing.
That’s why, as Senate Majority Leader, I made passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) – introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) — a top priority, and was pleased to see it receive bipartisan support. The bill, which focuses on the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, tackles substance abuse on multiple fronts—whether that is through enhanced prevention, education, treatment and recovery programs, or aid to law enforcement.
No piece of legislation can fix substance abuse and addiction overnight. But CARA will help reverse the trend of increased drug fatalities and prevent more people from turning to drugs. This bill represents a comprehensive approach to halt growing drug use, so much so that it is supported by more than 130 national organizations, including those in the public health, medical, and law-enforcement fields.
CARA will provide additional support for drug prevention and treatment programs that are already underway across Kentucky. For instance, groups like the Harm Reduction Coalition provide training to prevent overdoses through administration of a drug called naloxone, which can counter the effects of an opioid overdose. The group provides this training to drug treatment programs, recovery advocates, and health departments in Kentucky, and CARA will support their efforts.
Kentucky has a prescription drug monitoring program called KASPER to prevent a practice commonly known as “doctor shopping” or “pharmacy shopping,” which is when a person visits multiple physicians or pharmacies to obtain multiple prescriptions for drugs that can be abused. CARA will help to strengthen and enhance KASPER in its mission.
CARA would also support anti-heroin and anti-meth task forces to aid investigations of illegal drug trafficking and distribution. It would give law enforcement more of the tools they need to help battle prescription pain pill and heroin abuse.
Fighting drug abuse is not a new cause for me. For years I’ve traveled through the Commonwealth, learning about the scope of substance abuse in our state and working with Kentuckians to combat it.
In early 2014, I convened a listening session in Boone County to hear from informed Kentuckians in the medical, public health, and law-enforcement fields on this issue. Soon after that hearing, I testified before the Senate Drug Caucus to share my findings with my Senate colleagues. I also met with the Director of National Drug Control Policy—known as the nation’s “drug czar”—and successfully persuaded him to visit Kentucky to see firsthand the damage done by substance abuse.
I also introduced a bill in the Senate to help the tiniest victims of drug abuse: the babies who are born dependent on opioids and suffering from withdrawal. These innocent children, born in desperate circumstances through no fault of their own, deserve our protection.
My bill, the Protecting Our Infants Act, contained provisions to prevent prenatal opioid abuse, treat infants born dependent on opioids, and improve the states’ public health response to this crisis. I am pleased this bill passed Congress and was signed into law.
Passing CARA is the next important step in the fight against substance abuse. This bipartisan bill can save lives in Kentucky and across the nation, and I hope the president signs it.
As the president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, Jennifer Hancock, put it: “If passed, CARA will create lasting impact in Kentucky…Behavioral health and residential treatment providers, such as Volunteers of America, are ready and willing to expand services so more Kentuckians can receive the treatment they desperately need, and CARA can help.”
Substance abuse destroys lives. It kills people, increases crime, and robs families of their loved ones. We must work harder to save our children, our friends, and our neighbors from this scourge, and as Senate Majority Leader I will continue to make fighting it a priority.
Mitch McConnell is a U.S. Senator and majority leader of the Senate from Kentucky.