WASHINGTON – Nearly every day, we see another story in the news about an overdose in West Virginia. The drug crisis has hit our state hard, but it’s also a national crisis. No community is exempt — addiction doesn’t discriminate based on geography, income, education level or occupation.
A national crisis needs a national response, and that’s what I’ve been working on in Congress. I am pleased that our effort, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, has been passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, and the president quickly signed it into law.
This bill, also known as CARA, will make a real difference in our fight to stop the drug epidemic and help break the cycle of addiction.
This bill includes my legislation, the Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act, which addresses one of the saddest aspects of the drug crisis — babies going through drug withdrawal due to exposure during pregnancy. This condition is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Every 25 minutes, a baby is born in this country with NAS. Until you see a baby suffering from NAS, you cannot truly understand just how painful this condition is. These babies begin going through withdrawal as soon as the umbilical cord is cut. They are sensitive to light, noise and even touch. Their tiny bodies shake with tremors, and they scream in pain. It is difficult even just to comfort them; they are suffering too deeply.
We must do everything possible to help these babies and ensure they receive the best possible care, and this is an issue both Republicans and Democrats have rallied around. When the House considered my legislation, member after member from both parties stood up to speak in support of helping NAS babies. Addiction is not a partisan issue — we are united in finding solutions.
CARA is a comprehensive approach to combating the drug crisis, investing in local solutions, and expanding treatment options. Among many other actions, it expands a grant program to cover the purchase of opioid overdose reversal drugs like Naloxone for our first responders. This ensures our local fire and rescue personnel have access to life-saving medications and are better equipped to respond to overdoses. It also creates a new grant program to address opioid addiction and abuse, ensuring much-needed funds will be distributed to communities most in need.
In addition to passing bipartisan solutions, we are also providing the funding necessary to implement these programs and equip our communities. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I’ve fought successfully to ensure we are giving agencies the funding they need to support these efforts.
For fiscal year 2017, we increased the budget for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration by $431 million, which includes significant investments in fighting the drug epidemic. We appropriated $581 million to address opioid and heroin abuse, with $500 million going to the first-ever comprehensive state grant program to address this epidemic nationwide. Substance abuse block grants will also receive $1.8 billion.
At a time when this country seems too divided on political lines to come together, we have found common ground and are working toward solutions to this national crisis. Communities in West Virginia are making strides in stopping drug trafficking and treating addiction, but we still have a long way to go. We must use every resource possible and develop new strategies to help break the cycle of addiction and ensure those seeking a path to recovery are given the chance.
This is not a partisan issue; it is a human issue. I will continue to work to make sure that those who need help in West Virginia are able to receive it. Together we can make a difference and defeat the opioid epidemic.
Jenkins, a Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving West Virginia's Second District.