On Wednesday, January 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee focused on heroin and the prescription drug abuse issue during a hearing labeled, Attacking America’s Epidemic of Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse”   As noted previously, the President in his State of the Union address singled out the drug use issue as one area both parties could work together on. This week the President is meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to discuss a possible agenda for this year.

The Senate hearing focused on both enforcement and treatment with several witnesses discussing what was taking place in the New England area.  Testimony was taken from three panels including elected officials, administration officials and people directly impacted by prescription drugs and heroin use.

The panels included  Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. That panel was followed by a group of administration officials starting with Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr Nora D Volkow, Ms. Kana Enomoto, Acting Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Louis J. Milione, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration.  The final panel included Chief Enoch F. Willard, Chief of Police, Manchester , NH,  Ms. Tonda DaRe, Holly’s Song of Hope, Carrollton , OH, and Ms. Linda E. Hurley, Director of Clinical Services, CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., Cranston , RI

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Committee in his opening statement focused much of his concern and later some of his questioning on the interdiction issue with a focus on a supply chain that includes Mexico and Columbia.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member, in his statement focused on the way his state of Vermont has had in dealing with an epidemic of first prescription drug use and then heroin use.

Leahy’s concerns were reinforced by Vermont Governors Shumlin who talked about recent efforts there. Shumlin attracted national attention two years ago when he dedicated his State of the State address to the topic.  He was one of the witnesses who highlighted the child welfare aspect of the addiction problem when he said:

“Recognizing the risk to children …our Department for Children and Families established a contract with a local treatment program to provide in home substance abuse screening for families during the child welfare investigation. If indicated, the parent receives an immediate referral to treatment so that they can get help to start addressing their addiction. Since we are seeing approximately 80% of new child welfare families struggling with addiction, this program aims to remove a substantial barrier to connecting them to treatment.’

Senator Rob Portman discussed {for more information see your CWLA member newsletter}