More than 19 months after he helped introduce legislation aimed at reducing heroin use and opioid abuse, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly says Congress might be ready to act on what he called "a public health crisis."
Donnelly, D-Ind., on Wednesday predicted "a full-scale push" by him and other federal lawmakers for a similar bill.
"We’re going to work non-stop to get this done this year. This problem never takes a day off," Donnelly said in a conference call with reporters.
A Wednesday hearing on heroin and opioid abuse by the Senate Judiciary Committee "is an indication that the ball is moving," Donnelly said. "I am cautiously optimistic this is the year."
Committee members and hearing witnesses discussed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which incorporates provisions of a bill that Donnelly and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., introduced in 2014 and reintroduced in 2015.
CARA would strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs, expand the availability of overdose reversal drugs, expand "take-back" programs for the disposal of unused or unwanted prescription drugs and provide substance abuse treatment for those who are incarcerated.
"My commitment is to have a vote on (the legislation) this year. I’m going to work non-stop to try to get that done," Donnelly told reporters.
Asked why Congress has been slow to consider such legislation, Donnelly said: "I think it is making everybody else in Washington aware how critical this problem is. We were hoping to have this hearing last year. We are very, very happy to have it today."
Donnelly said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, is working to advance a companion bill in the House.
In testimony about CARA at Wednesday’s committee hearing, Ayotte said, "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem." She said New Hampshire reported 320 drug overdose deaths in 2014 and 385 last year.
Indiana, which has a population nearly five times greater than New Hampshire’s, reported 1,172 overdose deaths in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In remarks broadcast by C-SPAN, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told the Judiciary Committee that battling drug abuse is a challenge because "we simply pass out painkillers like candy in America, and we’re unwilling to have that conversation."
Also Wednesday, Donnelly released his office’s annual report for 2015, which he discussed in the conference call. He said he traveled to all of Indiana’s 92 counties during the year and hosted or participated in 327 events in 107 cities and towns over 165 days.
He said his staff helped 1,964 Hoosiers resolve problems with federal agencies and that more than $2.2 million in federal benefits owed to constituents was returned to them.
Donnelly listed the improvement of mental health care for military personnel, the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and a two-year suspension of the medical device tax as legislative efforts that he had a role in and that were enacted into law.