Addiction and Recovery: Health Issue Versus Criminal Act

Congress passed the first comprehensive legislation addressing addiction and recovery since the federal government declared its “War on Drugs” in the 70s on July 13, 2016. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act has been long-awaited by public health and the addiction and recovery communities alike.

What New Policies and Provisions Does the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Contain to Fight Addiction and Aid in Recovery?

  • Expands the definition of who can prescribe medications to aid in recovery to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. This will allow more publicly-funded and non-profit treatment centers to hire affordable and available staff who can prescribe needed medications for recovering addicts, expanding treatment capacity with less strain to the budget. Physicians receive higher pay than do nurse practitioners or physician assistants and are more difficult to find.
  • A five-year program authorizes the Department of Justice to spend up to $100 million each year to both find alternatives to incarceration for opioid abusers and allows prisons to provide methadone or buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction for inmates. Funding for the DOJ program is included in CARA.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services received authorization to supply grants to both states and community organizations who are seeking to improve and/or expand addiction treatment and recovery programs.
  • Police will be able to send people with drug addiction problems to treatment rather than putting them in jail.



  • Access to naloxone, the drug that can often reverse opioid overdoses, will be expanded from just first responders and police officers to schools and community centers. CARA encourages pharmacies to fill standing orders of naloxone so that those people who are most likely to be in contact with addicts, such as friends and family members, will have the medication on hand if needed in an emergency.


  • Expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs to aid states track prescription drug diversion and identify individuals at risk for developing addiction to prescription opioid medications to access services for treatment and recovery.
  • Expansion of prevention and education efforts aimed at at-risk populations including teens, their parents and other caregivers and the aging in regards to methamphetamines, heroin and opioid drugs including prescription medications.

Via a statement by the White House press secretary President Obama made it known that although he has reservations about CARA, namely the lack of funding for the measures it introduced, he would nevertheless sign the bill into law because addressing the nation’s opioid addiction crisis is too important to veto the measure, while also urging Congress to authorize additional funds to that end.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) reminds Congress not to pat itself on the back for CARA until additional necessary funding is in place:


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