Addiction: Our money where our veins are

It’s about time our government showed some common sense.

With everyone focusing on the Republican Convention, police shootings, and bombings worldwide, a significantly sensible and yet controversial bill has managed to fly under the radar.

Meet CARA. If that wasn’t the name of the girl you had a crush on in middle school, it’s the name of a government action that may save your life in years to come. CARA, or The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, was not expected to make it to the finals. The official website reported that the bill, introduced in February of 2015, had a 40% predicted rate of passing.

It passed with flying colors, with 94 members voting for it and 1 lone opponent. This year, we witnessed a rare event, as the government showed some interest in the health and wellbeing of its most vulnerable and demonized citizens: addicts.

This bill introduces programs that rely on grant funding to provide more comprehensive care to education and prevention efforts, as well as “promoting treatment and recovery.”

At a time when drug dealing still gets you more years than manslaughter in some states (*ehem* Oregon, where a reckless driver guilty of killing someone can potentially get off easier than someone caught distributing heroin) and major drug companies (here’s looking at you, Pfizer) are price gouging life-saving drugs like *Naloxone, it appears that phrases like “preventative care” and “best practices” have finally found some attentive ears in Washington.

  • Naloxone is a drug that greatly reduces the risk of death via heroin overdose, and heroin overdoses have become one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to 2014 studies released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Rather than simply employing punitive measures (which are going to remain in place) by locking up manufacturers, users and distributors, this measure will embark on the task of protecting, educating and treating those who currently suffer from addiction or are likely to without intervention.

The bill not only makes provisions for education, such as high school programs informing young people about substance abuse, but enhances funding efforts for family treatment and recovery programs. It promises to increase Naloxone’s accessibility, and to provide more legal, safe outlets for those disposing of prescription drugs. The overall goals of CARA are to prevent drug abuse through open and accurate discussion, to increase treatment options, and to provide alternatives to incarceration and custody. Ideally, this bill will result in a decrease in motivation to misuse substances, dignified treatment of drug-addicted populations, enhanced incentives to stay clean, and a reduction in the negative impacts of drug addiction on families and youth.

Here’s a play by play of CARA’s documented implementations:

President Barack Obama meetings with nonviolent drug offenders at El Reno Federal Corrections Institution, Oklahoma (VICE YouTube)
President Barack Obama meetings with nonviolent drug offenders at El Reno Federal Corrections Institution, Oklahoma (VICE YouTube)

(1) The bill lists methods for “prevention and education.”

This is where Best Practices comes in. Looking at the studies done on risk and protective factors, the government will employ teams of people from various organizations and communities to research and use empirically-proven prevention methods and education to reduce drug use in younger populations and first time users. This will require an in depth analysis of “best practices for pain management and pain medication.” Despite our growing number prescription opioid users who end up developing an addiction, this is an area we have not explored sufficiently in the past.

Additionally, community action grants and awareness campaigns will allow for programs that teach others about opioid, heroin and fentanyl use.

(2) Legal Matters

This section covers the treatment alternatives, making educational programs available rather than jail cells and time spent in custody with guards rather than counselors. This would entail progress reports for regular offenders and appropriate measures taken with regards to defense attorneys and corrections officials. Of course, this all requires money, thus authorizing grants for these purposes. Furthermore, at a time when police officers have become the first to save addicts from almost surely lethal overdoses, First Responder Training is going to become a vital part of law enforcement training, as well as Heroin and Methamphetamine Task Forces. Investigation of illegal distribution and manufacture of these substances will increase, along with proper response times and appropriate actions.

(3) Recovery Methods

Just when you thought government forces were completely oblivious to the 99%, it appears they’re taking statistics seriously and authorizes grants for substance abuse agencies to intervene and treat drug abuse with scientifically valid interventions. Criminal justice agencies will follow suite, and the National Youth Recovery Initiative will be working with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide recovery support to high schoolers and college students—often the most volatile and ignored demographic, if only because many simply “age out” of substance abuse problems. But for those who don’t, a lifetime of misery hardly seems a punishment matching the crime.

(4) Collateral Damage Control

Substance abuse isn’t a stand-alone problem. Ask anyone in drug counseling, anyone in the drug courts, anyone in mental health, and they will quickly inform you as to overlap in mental illness, homelessness, broken family dynamics, crime, and drug addiction. For this reason, nonprofits and institutions of health and wellness will be awarded with grants according to performance, education, preparation, career instruction, and initiative. This will prompt local and federal government organizations, including tribal entities, to provide training, assessment, hiring, screening and vocational opportunities to those most affected by drug abuse.

(5) Families, Veterans, and Women … Oh My!

Mothers and mothers-to-be are some of the first to be affected by substance use disorders. Whether they are using during pregnancy or with young children in home, Uncle Sam seems to be taking notice of his many wounded nieces. By providing improved treatment options for pregnant and postpartum women, grants for these services lessen the negative effects upon children. Reports on these family-based treatment programs will be submitted annually to the Omnibus Crime Control Bill and assist in creating options for parents who would otherwise be locked up and separated from their families, rather than learning how to recover within a family support system.

Veterans too will be given some relief from punitive measures, with an amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of ’68 lifting the dishonorable discharges of any who were discharged due to substance abuse.

(6) Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Initiatives

Finally, finally, we will start treating prescription opioid abuse and heroin as the deadly health threats that they are.

(7) Etcetera

This bill will use the reports of treatment, funding programs galore, involvement from the Attorney General, and the cooperation of several nonprofits and institutions to provide the resources and research to reduce the harmful effects of drug abuse. This even includes a second look at some Medicare coverage options (currently quite embarrassing) for substance abuse.

(8) The official CARA website calls this section the “Transnational Drug Trafficking Act.”

You can guess. Basically, owning and making and selling illegal drugs will continue to be illegal. Even selling fake drugs will land you in trouble with the feds. Don’t do it.

Whether all this agrees with you or makes you cringe a bit at the 50 states of various highs we must be living within for such a bill to pass, it’s clear that we need to shake up how we treat addiction in government circles.

The one drawback? This year’s election may drive you to druggin’.