Gov. Chris Christie’s anti-drug agenda has earned him a position as head of the White House task force on opioid addiction, which the Centers for Disease Control says has surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death in adults. A bipartisan bill in Washington expands programs to treat and prevent addiction. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams asked its co-sponsor — New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur — how the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act works.
Williams: Congressman, what would CARA, or the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act do?
MacArthur: Well Mary Alice, when we first passed that last year, it pulled together about a dozen separate bills, all of which dealt with avoidance, prevention, treatment, recovery of people that were struggling with addiction. And it funds programs that are administered locally. So it’s not doing things from Washington, but it’s helping local communities, states, local police departments and community organizations help families and individuals struggling with addiction.
Williams: So you’re calling for a total of $180 million in appropriations for fiscal year 2018. Is $180 million enough in this country to even make a dent in the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction?
MacArthur: No it’ll never be enough. Mary Alice, what we did was authorize programs from the federal government that would help local communities. Things like getting Narcan into police cars, helping people learn how to administer it, helping with the support of evidence-based treatment programs, helping with veterans, drug court, with a whole bunch of programs. We authorized them and now we need to fund them year after year after year. The funding for this year was $180 million and the short answer is no, it doesn’t solve this problem. But I think there’s a part to play here in Washington and of course a lot of this, most of this, has to be done by the state and by local communities and by families, but we can help and that’s why I’ve supported it and that’s why I’m pushing for the full funding now in what we authorize.
Williams: Let’s talk about friends in high places. Last week President Trump announced Gov. Christie will head the White House task force on opioid addiction. How is his leadership going to get Congress and the White House working together on this?
MacArthur: Well I think that’s an important appointment. New Jersey has really led the way, in part because we had such a terrible need with the soaring death from overdose in the country. New Jersey is at three times that and so we have a major, major problem in our state and we’ve led the way in things like reducing prescription drugs, the initial supply of prescription drugs to just a few days, five days. We’ve led the way in our state with requiring insurers to provide up to six months of treatment. And I think the governor is in a good position, a great position really to bring some of that to Washington and let us know from the perspective of a governor what can we do in the nation’s capital to help our communities deal with this?
Williams: You’ve talked about treatment but President Trump’s skinny budget would cut funding for the National Institutes of Health and some doctors and researchers are worried that that’ll hurt addiction research. Does that concern you?
MacArthur: Well anything that removes money from this area does concern me. We will do our own, we will certainly do it with respect to our president. But Congress also produces its own budget and we appropriate funds. I can tell you in the health care debates that we’ve been having for the past weeks, some of the funding that I have fought for and got into the health care bill dealt exactly with this. We added $15 billion to the health care bill specifically for people dealing with mental health care issues including addiction issues. And money can’t solve this, but it absolutely requires adequate resources to try to make a dent in this and there’s a lot of areas where we can do some good.
Williams: In hyper partisan Washington, is this the kind of by bipartisan issue that can actually gain some traction?
MacArthur: I think it is Mary Alice. It’s not the only one. We do not need to resign ourselves to a hyper partisan style of governing where everything is just done by one party. That’s not good in any realm of American life, but certainly when it comes to helping people in families with addiction issues. It touches all of our communities and it touches all kinds of people and I certainly think this is an area where there will be a lot of agreement.
Williams: OK thank you so much for your time today, Congressman Tom MacArthur.
MacArthur: OK Mary Alice. Thank you.