Today is a day to celebrate. With near-unanimous support, the Senate has approved the first standalone legislation to address our nation’s opioid and overall addiction crisis. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) now heads to President Obama for his signature, and we hope that he will sign it quickly.
Today, we recognize Congress’ momentous accomplishment. CARA will increase access by including nurse practitioners and physician assistants as authorized prescribers for medications that support treatment. CARA authorizes an arsenal of grant programs to help communities fight this heartbreaking epidemic with innovative prevention, treatment and recovery programs. CARA aligns financial incentives with the outcomes we want to see: fewer people becoming addicted to opioids; more access to a comprehensive range of services and supports, including medication-assisted treatment; and more individuals living healthy and happy lives in recovery from addiction. CARA incentivizes Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to help identify illegal activity and intervene for those in need of addiction treatment by tracking opioid prescriptions. CARA brings behavioral health providers, law enforcement officers, criminal justice systems, state agencies and others together as key partners in the collaborative efforts that are needed to stem the opioid crisis. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing applauds Congress for its hard work to bring this bill to passage.
Yet today, we must also recognize that our work is far from over. Without proper funding, the good intentions of CARA become empty promises. We must support states in their efforts to expand addiction care by fully funding CARA. The House says it will appropriate $581 million when it returns to Washington in September. While we’re waiting, more than 6,000 Americans will die from opioid overdose, and thousands more from alcohol-related deaths. We must finish the process and give CARA teeth.
We must also remember that grants support only a fraction of the total amount of care that is needed in our nation. With 9 in 10 Americans unable to access needed addiction treatment, we must continue fighting to build capacity in our delivery system—through Medicaid, private insurance and other payers; through Accountable Care Organizations, Health Homes and other delivery system innovations. Grants are sorely needed, but they are not enough.
We thank Congress for recognizing the problem and taking action, and we are particularly grateful to CARA’s champions in the House and Senate whose tireless efforts helped bring this bill to passage. Clearly this country is ready to treat addiction not like a crime, but like the health issue it is. Now we urge lawmakers to respond to this crisis on behalf of Americans living with addiction, by fully funding CARA and building capacity in our treatment system.