Rubio calls on Senate to fund fight against drug epidemic

Senator Marco Rubio is calling on members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide the funding needed to fight the heroin and fentanyl epidemic in Florida — the epicenter being in Manatee County.

Rubio called on Senators Thad Cochran, Roy Blunt, Barbara Mikulski and Patty Murray to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, in letter dated Tuesday.

President Barack Obama signed CARA into law July 22. The new legislation authorizes programs and resources to expand 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 for CARA, but the bill was passed only authorizing $181 million in funding.

Although $181 million was authorized, there was no funding appropriated for the bill — which Rubio co-sponsored.

“While getting to the President’s desk was an important first step in combating this growing issue, Congress must fulfill its commitment to those dealing with addiction by providing the funding necessary for the many programs and resources authorized by CARA,” Rubio wrote. “I thank you for your commitment to assisting those dealing with addiction and respectfully request that you fulfill that commitment by fully funding the authorized in CARA in any future appropriations.”

Rubio cited the Bradenton Herald coverage on the morgue in Manatee County being over capacity the last couple months as a result of another recent spike in overdoses to illustrate the epidemic level the heroin and fentanyl crisis has reached.

“Many of the provision authorized in CARA will go a long way in not only preventing overdoses, but equipping federal, state and local officials to stop addiction before it starts,” Rubio’s letter states. “CARA is also helping law enforcement reverse overdoses as first responders, expanding prevention and educational efforts to prevent drug abuse and increasing resources to identify and treat addicts.”

Democratic members of the House-Senate conference committee on CARA had attempted to add funding to the bill when U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J, introduced an amendment during a July 6 meeting of the committee calling for $920 million. The amendment was rejected in a 17-11 party line vote.

Committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., led the opposition, citing that the House Appropriations Committee announcement of their intention to appropriate about $581 million to address the opiate and heroin crisis.

Early this month, Michael Botticelli , director of White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, responded to request from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, for enhancement grants authorized under CARA.

Botticelli and Burwell directed Buchanan to look to his fellow members of Congress who passed CARA without the funding needed for grants such as the one he was requesting.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

Related stories from Bradenton Herald