Vice Chairman Leahy's Statement On the President’s Announcement On The Opioid Epidemic

It is far past time for the administration to acknowledge that the opioid crisis is a national emergency that affects every community across the country. This is a scourge that does not discriminate between rich and poor, or Republicans and Democrats, or urban areas and rural ones.  But the President’s talk is just that – talk.  There is no action or new funding behind the President’s empty words to address this crisis. This is not acceptable.  

The Republicans voted TODAY in the House of Representatives, and last week in the Senate, to slash Medicaid by $1 trillion, only to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.  Medicaid is a critical lifeline to providing critical care to victims of opioid abuse. 

And the cuts do not stop there.  The President’s budget request seeks to eliminate programs, like the anti-heroin task force, that have proven to be effective, including in my home state of Vermont.  In fact, the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget would reduce funding for the opioid epidemic by $97 million. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not followed suit in making these reckless cuts.  We instead are working to provide the necessary funding to address this crisis.  Between programs within the Justice Department, Health and Human Services Department, and Veterans Affairs, fiscal year 2018 Senate Appropriations bills would provide roughly $1.4 billion in funding, an increase of more than $137 million above the President’s budget request.  Including:

  • $15 million at SAMHSA for a new opioid prevention program (nothing in President Trump’s budget request).
  • $500 million for the State Response To The Opioid Abuse Crisis grants.
  • $12 million for Anti-Heroin Task Force grants to states (eliminated in the President’s budget request).
  • $386 million to treat and prevent opioid dependency among veterans.

Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats have gone further to combat this epidemic like the public health crisis that it is.  In September we put forward a proposal that would provide more than $1 billion in additional funding to further prevent and treat addiction to heroin and other opioids.  It was voted down by our Republican colleagues.   

We are past the time for just talk.  The administration MUST take real action to start acting like a true partner in addressing this national health crisis.  And to genuinely address this crisis we will need more resources. 

Since March, I have been calling on Republicans to negotiate a budget deal.  This budget deal needs to provide equal relief from sequestration for non-defense programs. If we do this, we can provide resources and substantial increases in funding to address the opioid crisis. 

My state of Vermont has pushed forward, working together with communities, law enforcement agencies and health care providers to treat this as the health crisis that it is.  Marcelle and I have sat with families in Vermont who have lost their children and Vermonters who are in recovery.  These are people who want and need our help, not a jail cell.  We cannot and will not arrest our way out of this problem.  We must do better.

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