Bipartisan Heroin Task Force bills head to Congressional committees
Infants and veterans, families and felons, doctors and druggists - all are factors in considerations by the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in the House of Representatives, which issued its nine-point agenda of legislation proposals this week.
In a fractious atmosphere under the Capitol dome, 90 members of Congress agreeing on anything is progress. Shore Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3), who co-chairs the panel with New Hampshire Democrat Annie Kuster, said that the sobering facts of the nation's drug siege meant checking politics at the door.
The bills are the culmination of months of hearings, internal discussions, and research to determine the most effective strategies in curbing addictions, and stemming the flow of narcotics that lead to them.
"We're trying to balance our desire to show compassion for people who are struggling with addiction, with enforcement and security," MacArthur said. "Some bills we've added to the agenda deal with prevention, some deal with treatment, some focus on families, on babies that are born addicted, veterans, law enforcement issues, border protection."
Among the proposals:
MacArthur said that bringing accountability to prescriptions issued to veterans ranks high among the panel's priorities.
"One of the things we've discovered in our hearings, is that upwards of 75 percent of people addicted to heroin today, got addicted by being prescribed legal painkillers. People who get on opioids, even for a day, have a six-percent chance of being on them a year later. People on them for a month, have a 35 or 36 percent chance of being on them a year later."
The initial issue of nine proposals portends additional ones yet to be finalized, MacArthur said, and represents a fraction of the measures being introduced by task force members.
"We had to decide which ones are consistent with the priorities we set in the beginning of the year, and which we hope to bundle, to bring real focus and get them all to the floor at the same time, " he said.
MacArthur added that this approach mirrors the one that resulted in last year's Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. "That started with 18 bills that dealt with different aspects of the crisis. We focused on all 18 bills in the space of one week."
MacArthur returns to 1160/1310 WOBM-AM on August 9 for "Ask The Congressman," 7 PM.