U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine implored his colleagues in the Senate on Thursday to provide millions of dollars in funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, to help pay for treatment of Americans who have become victims of the nation’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

King’s speech on the Senate floor lasted over 4 minutes and came hours after he submitted a letter to President Obama asking that the White House negotiate with Congress to make sure the $181 million authorized in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is included in a temporary measure – called a continuing resolution – to fund the federal government through Dec. 9.

King sent a similar letter to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. King, an independent, is concerned that if the federal government is not funded and shuts down Oct. 1, Congress will not have the funds needed to help people addicted to opioids.

“It is the greatest public health crisis of my lifetime,” said King, 72. “Seventy-eight people a day are dying and it’s preventable.”

Congress did not fund the act when it authorized the legislation in March or when it became law on July 22. It is designed to provide funds to expand access to medication-assisted treatment, increase the availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone and strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs. It also would provide funds to expand law enforcement efforts to prevent illicit opioid use and distribution.

“Passing that bill without funding is like sending the fire department to a five-alarm fire with no water. We don’t have the means to do what has to be done to defeat this scourge, which has taken the life of a constituent or more in every state in the union,” King told the Senate.


King said 15,000 people have died since the bill was passed. That’s about 78 people a day or three people every hour.

Although every state has been affected by the epidemic, Maine has been hit particularly hard.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office said 272 people died in Maine in 2015 as a result of drug overdoses, with the vast majority caused by heroin, fentanyl or prescription opioids. Maine is currently on pace to exceed that number, with 189 overdose deaths reported through June, according to the latest available figures.

“I can talk about the fact that opioid prescription drugs lead to heroin and other drugs, but the real subject today is funding,” King said. “Let’s deal with this terrible problem that is taking lives, tearing families apart, and deeply wounding the heart of America.”

The Associated Press reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped to reach a compromise with the White House and Senate Democrats over legislation to temporarily finance the federal government and avoid an Oct. 1 shutdown.


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