(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor in support of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). Murray emphasized the importance of including emergency funding in this legislation to help tackle the opioid epidemic as quickly as possible, and also highlighted ongoing, bipartisan efforts in the HELP Committee to build on CARA with additional measures to combat opioid abuse and strengthen mental health care.
Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:
“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act lays out key steps toward addressing the crisis of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction, which is ruining and costing lives nationwide—including in my home state of Washington.”
“It would cut down on inappropriate use of pain medication that gets so many people addicted to opioids in the first place, and would make it easier for people to safely dispose of pain medication, so that it can’t get into the wrong hands.”
“This legislation would also help police departments get access to Naloxone, a drug that can counteract the effects of an overdose—which is something police chiefs I’ve spoken to make clear they need.”
“…given the strong belief—on both sides of the aisle—that far too many people are falling through the cracks in our mental health and substance abuse systems, I believe we can and should do more to build on CARA in the coming months…We should pass this bill—but then I hope my colleagues won’t just get up and walk away.”
“We should build on this rare moment of bipartisan agreement, stay at the table, and keep working beyond this bill to strengthen mental health care and substance abuse treatment in our country.”
Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:
“Thank you, M. President.
“I want to start by expressing my appreciation to Senator Whitehouse, and all my colleagues who have worked hard to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor.
“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act lays out key steps toward addressing the crisis of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction, which is ruining and costing lives nationwide—including in my home state of Washington.
“I hear about this epidemic from Washington state families and communities far too often.
“Parents ask me what we’re doing here in Congress to help families like theirs, who are trying desperately to help their children struggling to escape addiction.
“I’m told about mothers and fathers who developed opioid addictions after being prescribed pain medication—with devastating consequences for their families.
“And when I go to speak with local sheriffs and police chiefs, they say that they are most often the ones responding to these crises and that our country needs to do better than allowing those struggling with addiction to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
“They also tell me that heroin use is only becoming more widespread in our communities—especially among young people.
“Penny LeGate, a former news anchor from Seattle, knows this all too well.
“Her daughter, Marah Williams, had a happy childhood—ballet lessons, softball, a close-knit family.
“But in middle school, as she began to struggle with ADHD, depression, and anxiety, she also started experimenting with drinking and drugs.
“For years, her parents tried everything they could—and as Penny will tell you, Marah did too.
“She fought hard to break her addiction and keep her life moving forward.
“But tragically, when Marah began using Oxycontin and then heroin—the grip of addiction was too much.
“Marah died of a heroin overdose when she was just nineteen years old, in the basement of her family home.
“M. President, this is a parent’s worst nightmare.
“It’s happening to parents across my state—and across the country—and it has to stop.
“So I am glad that there is bipartisan momentum toward giving our communities the tools and resources they need to tackle this disease.
“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act includes efforts to strengthen education, prevention, and treatment efforts around prescription drug abuse and heroin use.
“It would cut down on inappropriate use of pain medication that gets so many people addicted to opioids in the first place, and would make it easier for people to safely dispose of pain medication, so that it can’t get into the wrong hands.
“This legislation would also help police departments get access to Naloxone, a drug that can counteract the effects of an overdose—which is something police chiefs I’ve spoken to make clear they need.
“So, M. President, the bill we are debating right now would be a good step in the right direction.
“But it can be even better.
“As many of my Democratic colleagues have made clear—a problem as serious and urgent as this epidemic deserves a serious, urgent response.
“So we should enact the policies in this bill—and at the same time, we should also make sure that families and communities will see additional tools and resources as quickly as possible.
“That’s why I strongly support the emergency investments proposed by the senior Senators from New Hampshire and West Virginia, the junior Senator from Massachusetts—and others.
“Their proposal will help states and local governments, as well as families, who are on the front lines of this battle, by providing resources to prevent opioid abuse, and expand access to the treatment that so many families are seeking.
“I am hopeful Republicans will work with us to move this alongside this important bill so families don’t have to wait for the federal resources this crisis desperately needs.
“M. President, as I’ve laid out, the legislation we are debating today would go a long way toward tackling the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction—especially if it includes emergency funding that can offer relief and support quickly.
“But given the strong belief—on both sides of the aisle—that far too many people are falling through the cracks in our mental health and substance abuse systems, I believe we can and should do more to build on CARA in the coming months.
“M. President, we should pass this bill—but then I hope my colleagues won’t just get up and walk away.
“We should build on this rare moment of bipartisan agreement, stay at the table, and keep working beyond this bill to strengthen mental health care and substance abuse treatment in our country.
“So M. President, even while we debate this first step, I want to lay out just a few of the goals that should guide us as we look beyond it—goals I believe can be met if we work together and take this crisis seriously.
“First—mental health is every bit as important as physical health—and we should work to make sure they are treated equally in our health care system.
“Second—we should do more to break down barriers that make it difficult to address patients’ mental and physical health care needs at the same time.
“Third—at a time when half of all U.S. counties lack access to a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist—we need to strengthen our mental health care workforce, so that patients and families can get care when and where they need it—whether that’s at a hospital or in their own communities.
“Fourth—we need to recognize that mental health care is important at every stage of life—and ensure our system can address every patient’s needs, whether that patient is a child or an adult.
“And finally, to continue taking steps to address the opioid abuse epidemic, I believe we can do more to expand access to medication assisted treatment, and offer states more resources to respond to crisis situations—including by strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs.
“My colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have worked hard to improve prevention and treatment of opioid addiction, especially among individuals who pass through the criminal justice system.
“I believe we need to ensure these tools and resources are available to all Americans struggling with addiction and ensure that our health care system is equipped to address addiction as a disease.
“M. President—I’ve been proud to work with the junior Senator from Connecticut and other members of the HELP Committee, on both sides of the aisle—lead by Chairman Alexander, the senior Senator from Tennessee—on a path toward meeting these goals.
“And I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to reach agreement on some additional steps that would make a difference for the many families and communities who are struggling to support loved ones in need.
“M. President, it goes without saying that in this divided government, we don’t agree on much.
“But there is some important bipartisan agreement on the need to close the gaps in our mental health care system and tackle the crisis of opioid addiction.
“So I hope that we can pass the legislation we’re debating today along with improvements that ensure it helps patients and families as quickly as possible.
“But we shouldn’t stop there.
“We should seize this opportunity—work together—and continue making progress for the families and communities we serve.
“Thank you and I yield the floor.”