Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act

On February 12, 2015, the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) was re-introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. CARA was initially introduced during the last legislative session, in the Senate, on September 17, 2014. However, the bill failed to gain any movement. However, introducing the bill that late in the session was strategic (and not an uncommon legislative tactic) – even though it had little to no chance of making its way through the meat-grinder that is Congress last session, in less than three months. Because now, moving into a fresh, new legislative session, the bill has momentum: CARA has more cosponsors than it initially had last session, significant support and public awareness of the bill has been raised, thereby creating a greater societal demand, and upwards of 100 organizations are advocating for the passage of CARA.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 would:
  • Provide between $40 million and $80 million in funding for prevention and recovery
  • Launch an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions program.  While we have medications that can help treat addiction, there is a critical need to get the training and resources necessary to expand treatment best practices throughout the country
  • Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion and to help at-risk individuals access services
  • Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and aging populations—to prevent the abuse of opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery
  • Expand recovery support for students in high school or enrolled in institutions of higher learning
  • Expand and develop community-based recovery services in communities across the country
  • Expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help in the reversal of overdoses to save lives
  • Expand resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders promptly by collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders and by providing evidence-based treatment
  • Expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to keep them out of the hands of our children and adolescents
Why Advocacy Matters

Policies regarding alcohol and drug dependence are going to get made (or not made) with or without the input of people such policies affect most. These are policies that affect access to and quality of resources that are integral to maintaining a person’s ongoing recovery. Needless to say, we need to be at the table – rather than merely on the menu. We need to make sure that our interests are being advanced in the policy arena. CARA is the first bill of its kind to address addiction in such an expansive way, and begin to effectively bridge the large gap between science and practice, and expand community support and educational resources.

The legislative process is long – and grueling. Statistically, only 4% of bills ever become laws. Decision-makers are constantly inundated with interests from every faction of society, which understandably (but unfortunately) makes it easy for bills to just fall by the wayside. To prevent CARA from a similar fate, advocates and supporters must be regularly heard through the torrent of other interests being launched at decision-makers on a daily basis.  This is why ongoing advocacy throughout the legislative process is so important – and will be crucial to getting CARA passed. 

 Advocacy efforts from constituencies across the country must be steadfast and diligent. CARA supporters and advocates have that ability. Over just the past five months, CARA’s supporters are becoming a constituency of consequence, wielding a sizable and growing level of influence. In all, the Recovery Movement at large has come to represent a large voting bloc in districts across the country. As another old saying goes, there’s “power in numbers”. And that’s no more readily apparent than when advocating for social change through legislative means.

Mariel Harrison
Advocacy Field Organizer