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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

What’s next for CARA and other addiction bills?

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Last week, the House, in a series of near-unanimous votes, approved a package of bills to address the nation’s opioid epidemic. The move came close on the heels of the Senate’s passage of a related bill—known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act or CARA—in March. Together, these actions set the stage for congressional passage of the first standalone addiction-focused bill in recent memory.

With the historic passage of these bills, we should all take a moment to celebrate our field’s successes. But our work is far from over. CARA and the House opioid package now head to a conference committee, where selected Members of Congress will work out the differences between the two bills and emerge with a final, compromise package for consideration by Congress.

If you’re a close observer of federal mental health and addiction policy, you know it’s rare to see a bill like this go through the conference process. Instead, many recent behavioral health policy changes have been enacted as amendments to larger moving bills. What does the conference committee mean for advocates? And what are the chances of a final bill passing Congress this year?

On the positive side, there are few policy disagreements in the bills. The primary differences between the House and Senate packages like in the types of interventions each bill chose to address, meaning there are few disagreements between the bills over shared policy provisions. This will make negotiators’ task easier as they contemplate how to move forward with a compromise bill.

Several issues negotiators will have to address include how best to focus prevention and treatment initiatives, as well as how to address the current patient cap on buprenorphine prescribers. Negotiations may also be complicated by the question of how much funding—if any—to devote to the provisions in the bill. Some legislators have suggested that funding for the package should be allocated through the normal appropriations process, while others insist that the conference committee should fully fund the final bill.

Before negotiations can begin, the two chambers will need to appoint their conferees. The House announced its picks Wednesday; there has been no word yet on when the Senate will do the same. If and when negotiators agree to a compromise bill, Congress will once again have to vote on the measure before it can head to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The National Council will be requesting full funding of the CARA/opioid package at our upcoming Hill Day, to be held June 6-7 in Washington, DC. Please join us to add your voice to the growing chorus in support of addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery! Registration is free and open to all – click here to learn more.