More help is coming to communities struggling with substance abuse, thanks to legislation backed by U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar and others.
The measure (HR 7234) reauthorizes programs to combat the opioid epidemic and reduce homelessness through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). Its title, the Summer Barrow Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Act, is named for a Virginia woman who overdosed on fentanyl in January 2020.
President Joe Biden ratified the measure as part of the $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations package that will fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2023.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia filed HR 7234 in March with co-sponsorship from Salazar, North Dakota Republican Kelly Armstrong and Arizona Democrat Tom O’Halleran. It failed to pass on its own and was later absorbed in other, larger bills to ultimately become part of the omnibus.
“The passage of this bill is a major victory in addressing the needs of American communities when it comes to substance abuse treatment and mental health,” Salazar said in a statement. “I am proud to see this bipartisan legislation pass Congress and help deliver critical resources to those in need.”
A press note from Salazar’s office cited HR 7234 as the “fourth major legislative victory” she had during her first term in Congress. The others, according to her office, include the passage of the COVID Economic Disaster Loan Relief Act, which the Biden administration implemented in March 2021; the Reinforcing Nicaragua to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act sanctioning the regime of Daniel Ortega, which Biden signed in November 2021; and the PRICE Act to help small businesses gain federal contracts, which Biden signed in February.
Filed in March, HR 7234 was intended to clear more than $900 million through SAMHSA. The largest piece, $521 million, was to go toward grants for programs in “specific populations of areas of concern,” including training physicians to identify patients in need of substance abuse disorder treatment, residential services for pregnant and postpartum women, and improving access to recovery through peer counseling.
Another $218 million was to go to state programs identifying local prevention priorities, and $106 million was to be set aside to help the homeless access substance abuse, mental health treatment and assistance in transitioning out of homelessness.
The remainder was to cover medical assistance, prevention and treatment for opioid addiction, create and support programs combating underage drinking and support pharmacies’ access to overdose medication.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between October 2020 and October 2021, nearly 106,000 Americans died by overdose, a single-year record.
Spanberger, who listed Armstrong, O’Halleran and Salazar as co-introducers of the bill when she announced it March 29, said strengthening access to treatment and recovery programs is key to tackling the problem.
“Over the last two years, I have heard from far too many Virginia families about how they have been personally impacted by addiction and overdose,” she said at the time.
“I am honored to lead this legislation — in Summer’s name — to support states’ and communities’ work to combat addiction through prevention, treatment, and recovery services … and I want to thank Reps. Armstrong, O’Halleran and Salazar for their partnership on this issue.”