Ayotte welcomes Obama’s turn to drug abuse fight
By Samantha-Rae Tuthill | April 5, 2016, 12:51 EDT
MANCHESTER, N.H. – When President Barack Obama turned his attention last week to the opioid and heroin overdose epidemic that has ravaged families across the country, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte may well have wondered what took him so long.
In 2014, Ayotte, a Republican, was a co-sponsor in 2014 of a bill that would direct resources to help drug abusers, first responders, law enforcement agencies and addicts in recovery, according to a statement on the freshman senator’s website. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which she helped reintroduce last year, passed the Senate 94-1 early last month.
Last week, Obama told a conference on drug abuse that the heroin and opioid addiction crisis should be ranked alongside terrorism as a threat to the American public. His remarks came as his administration proposed new regulations and directed $1.1 billion in funding for treatment of abusers and the distribution of a medication to counteract overdoses, called naloxone, the Associated Press reported.
Ayotte praised the president and his administration for “taking important steps that will support efforts to reverse the heroin and prescription opioid abuse crisis,” in a statement issued the same day. Referring to the bill just passed by the Senate, she noted that it calls for “similar strategies, and I am particularly glad to see the White House pushing for measures like expanding availability and coverage of treatment and funding for law enforcement and first responders.”
The effects of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse have been felt heavily in Ayotte’s backyard, with record numbers of overdose deaths in New Hampshire last year. The state currently has one of highest per capita rates of addiction to heroin and opioids, which are synthetic forms of morphine and other opiates used for pain treatment.
It has been a problem long in the making. As far back as 2009, the rate of illicit drug use among New Hampshire residents aged 18 to 25 has been well above the national average, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. In 2015, at least 428 people died from overdoses, more than double the number from just three years earlier, New Hampshire Public Radio reported last month, citing data from the state’s chief medical examiner.
Federal efforts to combat the issue are welcomed by Granite State residents, as more families find themselves forced to bury their loved ones lost to powerful street drugs and painkillers such as Fentanyl.
Presidential hopefuls helped focus national attention on the epidemic during the months-long campaign for the first-in-the-nation primary. Locals asked both Democratic and Republican candidates what they planned to do about drug abuse that threatened their communities in forums and town hall-style meetings up and down the state, leading contenders to work drug abuse into their talking points.
But for Ayotte, dealing with the issue has gone beyond just talk. In June 2015 she introduced a bill with Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, that called on doctors to adopt better prescribing practices involving potentially addictive painkillers. Many heroin addicts trace their dependence to abuse of prescription drugs they received from their doctors. When their supply ran out, some turned to illicit sources or cheaper, often easily available street drugs like heroin.
Ayotte believes that by reforming and regulating prescription practices, fewer people may end up hooked on opioids, and fewer will wind up using heroin.
“The bill will also give law enforcement greater access to important tools to fight heroin use, and calls for a well-coordinated drug awareness campaign with a particular focus on the links between prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction,” Ayotte said when the Senate passed the bipartisan bill she originally co-sponsored in 2014.
The bill offers a national plan to battle prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction. While Obama criticized the measure for lacking funding provisions, Ayotte has separately urged lawmakers to authorize $1.5 billion in funding for CARA’s proposals. By comparison, Obama’s steps last week called for almost a third less money.
Steps by the White House would also boost opioid addiction treatment and improve insurance coverage for mental health disorders and addiction, initiatives similar to those Ayotte has pursued in recent years.
In the Capitol, Ayotte has refocused her efforts on the House of Representatives. As she welcomed Obama’s comments and actions on the issue last week, she added: “While these measures are a positive step, I am renewing my call for the House to quickly take up CARA and send it to the president for his signature.”