Congress Wrestles with Solutions for Heroin Epidemic

There has been a 286 percent increase in overdose deaths since 2010.

Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic where users can pick up new syringes and other clean items for those dependent on heroin.
National Journal
Colby Bermel
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Colby Bermel
July 27, 2015, 4 p.m.

Two weeks after a series of hear­ings on man­dat­ory-min­im­um sen­ten­cing, a House Ju­di­ciary sub­pan­el on Tues­day will meet with of­fi­cials to dis­cuss what mem­bers say is a grow­ing heroin epi­dem­ic in Amer­ica.

Sev­er­al pro­posed bills un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in both cham­bers would es­tab­lish in­ter­agency task forces for heroin and opi­ate mat­ters. Crime Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Jim Sensen­bren­ner has also in­tro­duced a bill that would give fed­er­al money to states for edu­ca­tion, pre­ven­tion, and treat­ment ef­forts.

But there has been no form­al an­nounce­ment from the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee as to what le­gis­la­tion — present or fu­ture — will be in­cluded in its crim­in­al-justice-re­form ini­ti­at­ive. A late June listen­ing ses­sion or­gan­ized by the com­mit­tee, an aide said, con­sidered all pro­posed le­gis­la­tion from law­makers, a dozen of whom presen­ted.

Con­gress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion both seem to re­cog­nize the heroin epi­dem­ic as a threat to pub­lic health and safety. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, there has been a 286 per­cent in­crease in over­dose deaths since 2010, and the use of heroin has in­creased among most demo­graph­ic groups since 2002. The drug is cheap­er to ob­tain than pre­scrip­tion paink­illers, ac­cord­ing to the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and heroin and opi­ates have many of the same ef­fects on the body.

An­gela Pacheco, the first ju­di­cial dis­trict at­tor­ney for Santa Fe, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that her Tues­day testi­mony would dis­cuss law-en­force­ment-as­sisted di­ver­sion, a com­munity-poli­cing strategy in which of­ficers who know their neigh­bor­hoods can dir­ect in­di­vidu­als with ad­dic­tions to a treat­ment pro­gram in­stead of ar­rest­ing them. Pacheco says this not only saves gov­ern­ments money, but pro­motes com­pas­sion.

“It’s sav­ing lives and al­low­ing the per­son to re­claim their in­teg­rity,” she said. “This is not for every­one. It’s for some people, and for the people that it works, it saves their lives and makes them in­to pro­duct­ive mem­bers of the com­munity.”

Also un­der re­view by the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee are the is­sues of over-crim­in­al­iz­a­tion, crim­in­al pro­ced­ures, poli­cing strategies, and civil-as­set for­feit­ure.

“Crim­in­al justice is about pun­ish­ing law-break­ers, pro­tect­ing the in­no­cent, the fair ad­min­is­tra­tion of justice, and fisc­al re­spons­ib­il­ity in a man­ner that is re­spons­ive to the needs of com­munit­ies,” Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte and Rank­ing Mem­ber John Con­yers said in a joint state­ment.

This blitz on crim­in­al-justice re­form isn’t just hap­pen­ing in the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. While dis­cuss­ing his sup­port of the bi­par­tis­an SAFE Justice Act earli­er this month, House Speak­er John Boehner said many people in pris­on “really don’t need to be there.” And Pres­id­ent Obama has spoken out force­fully on re­form, say­ing, “I don’t think that the crim­in­al-justice sys­tem is ob­vi­ously the sole source of ra­cial ten­sion in this coun­try, or the key in­sti­tu­tion to resolv­ing the op­por­tun­ity gap. But I think it is a part of the broad­er set of chal­lenges that we face in cre­at­ing a more per­fect uni­on.”

Else­where Tues­day, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will be­gin a markup on the Pro­tect­ing Our In­fants Act, in­tro­duced by Demo­crat­ic Rep. Kath­er­ine Clark, a bill that seeks to pre­vent pren­at­al opioid ab­use and neonat­al ab­stin­ence syn­drome. A com­mit­tee re­view of the Stop Over­dose Stat Act, in­tro­duced by Demo­crat­ic Rep. Donna Ed­wards, is still in the re­view pro­cess.

Two of Tues­day’s wit­nesses are top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials: Of­fice of Na­tion­al Drug Con­trol Policy Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Bot­ti­celli and Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion Act­ing Deputy Ad­min­is­trat­or Jack Ri­ley. Nancy Parr, the com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney for Ches­apeake, Vir­gin­ia, is also sched­uled to testi­fy.

What We're Following See More »
WILL BEGIN WITHOLDING FUNDS IMMEDIATELY
Sessions Makes Good on Threat to Sanctuary Citites
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday he’ll begin punishing sanctuary cities, withholding potentially billions of dollars in federal money — and even clawing back funds that had been doled out in the past. Speaking at the White House, Mr. Sessions said his department is preparing to dole out more than $4 billion in funds this year, but will try prevent any of it from going to sanctuaries."

Source:
THE PLOT THICKENS
Nunes Met Source on White House Grounds
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was on the White House grounds "on the day before his announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then-President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals." He notes he was not in the White House itself, and the President's team has disavowed any knowledge of Nunes's visit.

Source:
DEMOCRATS PUSHED FOR DELAY
Judiciary Committee Punts Gorsuch Vote Until Next Week
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
SENATE INTEL REQUESTS HIS TESTIMONY
Kushner to Testify on Russia
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Senate investigators plan to question Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a close adviser, as part of their broad inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin, according to administration and congressional officials."

Source:
COULD ACCELERATE ITS DEMISE
Trump May Attack Obamacare Through Regulation
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

"With the collapse of Republicans’ health plan in the House on Friday, the Trump administration is set to ramp up its efforts to alter the Affordable Care Act in one of the few ways it has left—by making changes to the law through waivers and rule changes. The initiative now rests with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has vowed to review every page of regulation and guidance related to the ACA." Some suggest that regulatory changes may be aimed at hastening Obamacare's demise.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login