POLITICS

Democrats Push $600 Million Emergency Heroin Bill

"This is the fight of our times," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

WASHINGTON -- With Congress gradually edging around to actually treating the opioid and heroin abuse crisis as a crisis, Senate Democrats tried to ratchet up the pressure on Republicans Thursday to put some money into confronting the problem.

The move came just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which aims to shift the federal response away from law enforcement efforts and toward prevention and treatment.

But Democrats declared in a news conference afterward that authorizing such a step is good but insufficient, given the rapid expansion of the death toll from prescription drug and heroin overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,055 people died from overdoses in 2014 alone, including 28,647 from opioids.

"Every single day, young lives are being snuffed out," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "It's a national emergency, and we need to fight back today."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring the CARA legislation to the Senate floor after the President's Day break. Schumer pledged that Democrats will try to add to that bill a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

It includes funding for treatment, prevention and recovery efforts at the state level, as well money for local treatment and enforcement programs. It also includes $50 million for intervention programs, including better monitoring of drug prescriptions.

Several senators said the federal government has to step in because states can't handle the crisis on their own, and compared it to a national security issue.

"The terrorist call, which families are now afraid to get, is not from something overseas. It's the call to tell them that another member of their family has now been hit by this heroin, opioid epidemic in America," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "This is the fight of our times."

And although the Democratic-pushed bill highlighted the effort as a potential partisan fight, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) insisted that this effort should be welcomed by the GOP. 

"I don't believe that my colleagues, the Republican colleagues, are going to deny this," said Manchin, who has recently taken to the Senate floor to read the letters from the family members of overdose victims. "I would think they would embrace the funding. They know they have a problem. It's not just a Democrat problem. It's not a Republican problem. It's all of our problem."

Schumer accused the GOP of being reluctant to go beyond rhetoric on the issue, and said what Democrats were doing was holding Republicans' "feet to the fire" to ensure there is meaningful action.

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