Q&A: Overdose & Addiction in Iowa
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What is the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)?
A: For two decades I have worked closely with community anti-drug coalitions in Iowa to deploy resources to help drive methamphetamine out of our communities and out of our state. From shutting down international drug trafficking rings to making it harder to obtain over-the-counter ingredients that contribute to hazardous meth labs, rooting out this dangerous, addictive drug remains a high priority among policymakers, prevention and treatment specialists, law enforcement and court authorities in Iowa. Unfortunately, there’s another drug epidemic on the horizon. To Iowans who have escaped the ravages of a friend or loved one addicted to heroin or prescription pain medication, it may come as a surprise to learn that 129 people die from drug overdoses each day in the United States. That’s more than 47,000 lives lost in one year. That’s a staggering figure. The abuse of heroin and opioids has reached epic proportions in some areas of the country, casting a dark shadow over communities in New Hampshire and Ohio, for example. Commonly abused prescription medications in the opioid class of drugs include oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. This shadow is reaching into the neighborhoods and households right here in Iowa. Countless moms and dads from Davenport to Dubuque, Des Moines and Denison are gripped by the silent scourge of addiction in their families. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I put this issue on the committee’s radar screen in January. The committee examined the scope of the crisis described by elected public officials, considered policy solutions from law enforcement and addiction specialists and heard testimony from a parent who lost her daughter to overdose. My committee passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill in February, which I then steered through the entire U.S. Senate in March. After negotiating the bicameral final bill with lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is now on its way to the president’s desk. We listened to the public, learned how this overdose epidemic is destroying lives, homes, families and communities and identified solutions to address this public health crisis. CARA has a five-pronged approach and authorizes almost $900 million in federal funding over five years for prevention, education, treatment, recovery and law enforcement.
Q: How will CARA help address drug addiction and overdoses in Iowa?
A: Although the opioid epidemic is making inroads into Iowa, methamphetamine remains a primary substance of abuse in our state. That’s why I worked to supplement the community-based coalition grant program that has helped Iowa communities for several years. It allows local leaders, across the spectrum, from substance abuse and treatment specialists to law enforcement, mental health providers, and court personnel, to maximize and marshal federal resources to address substance abuse problems specific to the citizens in their communities. Originally established by the Drug Free Communities Act I secured into law several years ago, CARA will give community coalitions a bigger boost by making more federal grant dollars available to continue targeting both methamphetamine and opioid abuse gripping their communities. In addition, CARA makes additional resources available to help train court professionals, prevention coordinators, recovery specialists and law enforcement in our communities who are working to address substance abuse, restore the tremendous loss of hope and save lives from heroin and pain killer addiction and overdose. CARA also includes expanded access for law enforcement and first responders to naloxone, a life-saving medication that reverses the deadly effects of opioid overdoses. I fought to ensure that a fixed portion of funds for this expanded access to naloxone is set aside for rural areas, like much of Iowa.
Here’s what else CARA will do:
• strengthen the ability of federal government to freeze the assets of foreign drug traffickers who pump opioids, methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics into the U.S.;
•authorize public education programs to increase awareness about the risks of prescription drug addiction;
• strengthen pain killer prescription guidelines and establish an Office of Patient Advocacy for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide better monitoring and care veterans;
• authorize the expansion of the federal prescription drug take-back program to provide safe, responsible and convenient disposal for unneeded prescription drug medications to get them out of medicine cabinets and out of the wrong hands in local communities; and,
• launch a pilot program to support family-based services for pregnant and postpartum women with a substance abuse disorder.
This bipartisan bill makes a tremendous step forward to help address a public health crisis affecting so many communities. It may dispel some public cynicism about government, as well. CARA provides real tools that will help save lives and restore hope among thousands of families gripped by addiction. I’m glad to say help is on the way and applaud the work of grassroots coalitions in Iowa who are behind this effort, including the support of Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa, Kossuth Connections, Siouxland Cares, the Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, Community Resources United to Stop Heroin (CRUSH) of Eastern Iowa -- Dubuque Chapter, Quad Cities Harm Reduction, Henry County Substance Abuse Coalition, Jones County Safe and Health Youth Coalition, Alliance of Coalitions for Change, Van Buren SAFE Coalition, Gateway ImpACT Coalition, and Pathways Behavioral Services, Inc.