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Heroin Epidemic Prompts Calls for More Congressional Spending

Shaheen wants supplemental funding to fight heroin. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As appropriators work to craft an omnibus spending package to fund the federal government, one of them is making a pitch for additional funding to combat heroin.  

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is proposing a $600 million emergency supplemental for health care and law enforcement expenses associated with fighting the heroin epidemic that's swept through communities across the country, including in the Democratic senator's home state of New Hampshire.  

Shaheen outlined her supplemental proposal early Monday, also sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell seeking Obama administration support for increased funding.  

"New Hampshire has been hit particularly hard by this epidemic. Last year, 325 people were lost to opioid overdoses, an increase of 76 percent from the previous year. As I travel across the state, I hear from community groups, law enforcement, and health care providers about the need for additional funding to address this crisis," Shaheen wrote. "It is estimated that 100,000 people are currently seeking substance abuse disorder treatment in New Hampshire, yet at current funding levels we are only able to serve about four percent of that population."  

Of the money, $225 million would go through the Justice Department for justice assistance grants and a targeted effort to assist police in jurisdictions with unusually high rates of opioids abuse (as measured through admission to treatment rates).  

"This should be an all-hands-on-deck moment, not just for New Hampshire, but for our country. We are losing lives daily and our first responders, health care providers and criminal justice system are overwhelmed," Shaheen said in a statement.  

The supplemental idea comes after lawmakers struck a federal budget deal that provided some increased flexibility for the Appropriations committees to assemble the catch-all bill needed to avoid a shutdown by Dec. 11. Since Shaheen is proposing emergency spending, she's seeking funds outside of the scope of the budget agreement.  

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said last week it was not yet known if there could be an emergency supplemental request for an entirely different issue — the response to ISIS in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  

Mikulski said the process of developing the bill combining the dozen regular spending measures was still at an early stage. She added there has been no serious consideration of policy provisions the Republican majority might want to see attached.  

"Right now, it's not the poison pill riders. Our enemy is ISIL," Mikulski said.  

Shaheen's proposal is not limited to support to fight heroin. She also wants some of the supplemental funding to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist states in tracking and tackling prescription drug abuse. Shaheen's office pointed to the link between abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin.  

In New Hampshire, state lawmakers voted last week to establish a task force to develop legislation to respond to the heroin crisis, WMUR reported . The state legislature had been called into a special session by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running for Senate in 2016 against incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.  

Ayotte has also been active on the drug abuse issue, and it has become a topic of discussion among presidential candidates facing voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

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