If U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan wants financial assistance for Manatee County to aid in combating the latest spike in heroin and fentanyl overdoses, the White House says he should turn to his fellow Republican Congress members who rejected spending more money on the crisis.
Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is seeking enhancement grants that are included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, which President Barack Obama signed into law on July 22.
The legislation calls for expanding the availability of naloxone, prescription drug monitoring programs and the treatment of incarcerated addicts, and allowing for students with drug possession or sale convictions to apply for federal financial aid to go to college.
Obama had called for $1.1 billion in funding to be included in the legislation, but the bill adopted only authorized $181 million in funding.
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But even that money was not appropriated, so no grants can be awarded.
Three days after Obama signed CARA, Buchanan sent a letter to White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking funds be immediately directed to Manatee County — the epicenter of the heroin and fentanyl crisis in Florida.
The officials responded to Buchanan last week, explaining how the administration could not appropriate money and that it was up to Congress.
“We are deeply disappointed that Congress passed CARA without funding or any other resources for the programs authorized in the legislation, including for the community-based coalition enhancement grants you referenced in your letter,” the officials wrote in the letter obtained by the Bradenton Herald.
Burwell and Botticelli acknowledged the demand for more funding has come from the community, law enforcement, advocates and elected officials, and said they hope Buchanan would be an ally in the effort to get funding and encourage others in Congress to do the same.
“While federal agencies are using their authorities to take every available action they can, we simply cannot do enough without more resources from Congress,” the officials wrote. “We hope that you will work with your colleagues to provide the resources American families desperately need as quickly as possible.”
In response to an interview request by the Bradenton Herald about the letter, Buchanan released the following statement:
“I’m very pleased the Manatee County Drug Free Coalition has been awarded a federal grant to continue their work. The coalition is on the frontlines of this fight and their prevention efforts are key to reducing drug abuse. We have not yet received a final answer on our request for ‘enhancement grants’ but we will continue to make the case for additional funding.”
Drug Free Manatee said it had not received funding through the CARA Act.
“There is legislation, such as CARA, in place, and more being proposed, that addresses key issues and provides well-defined strategies pertinent to the heroin/opioid epidemic,” associate director Rita Chamberlain said in a statement to the Herald. “However, all of these initiatives lack funding and other resources for implementation.”
Drug Free Manatee does receive grant support from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration for Drug Free Communities Support Program, the Florida Department of Children and Families and local contributions.
During a meeting of the House-Senate conference committee on CARA on July 6, an attempt by Democrats to add funding to the bill was blocked by Republicans. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., had proposed an amendment to the bill calling for $920 million to combat the overdose crisis.
“Sadly, 2014 saw the highest number of drug overdose deaths than any other year on record. Our public health and treatment systems have not kept pace with the expanding epidemic,” Pallone said. “Those struggling with heroin or opiate addiction suffer from critical shortages in treatment access. Only one in 10 individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders receive any form of treatment.”
The committee rejected the amendment in a 17-11 party line vote. Committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., let the opposition offer the amendment, but urged fellow members to oppose it.
“The House Appropriations Committee announced that they will be providing some $581 million to address opiate and heroin abuse,” Upton said. “This amendment is not the right way to do it.”