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Addiction & Recovery

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2016. That represents a 21 percent increase over the previous year and is comparable to the number of automobile and firearm deaths combined that same year. Americans are dying from this illness at a faster rate than they did at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that sparked a national movement to address it. Meanwhile, just 1 in 5 individuals suffering with Substance Use Disorder is receiving the treatment they need.

People, families and communities are being overwhelmed by this epidemic. Our national response seems to be stuck, and many of those who are taking action revert to the costly and ineffective "war on drugs." The fact is, this is a public health crisis.

We must broaden our focus from arrests and incarceration alone to include pillars of prevention, treatment and recovery. And we must transform the way we think and talk about this issue, applying science and practical solutions we know can work to intervene for individuals who find themselves on a path to addiction and those already in crisis, and to support these individuals and their families in finding a path of prevention or recovery.

A History of Action

Leading in Congress to Expand Access to Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment

Rep. Tonko has a substantial record of work to address the growing opioid epidemic sweeping the U.S. In the 114th Congress, he advanced a legislative addition to the 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) that expanded the ability of doctors and certain advanced practice nurses to prescribe medication-assisted treatments (MAT).

He now has two major pieces of legislation to build on that progress and help close the massive treatment gap. He also consistently leads an annual effort in House of Representatives to secure funding for the Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and a major proponent for the Drug Free Communities program which serve as the backbone for local impact of U.S. drug prevention efforts.

2018 Bipartisan Budget Agreement: "As America’s opioid crisis continues to worsen, the need for a national response becomes ever more urgent. I am proud to report that my Democratic colleagues and I were able to secure $3.2 billion for programs that specifically address the opioid epidemic, as well as $1.6 billion for community health centers that are on the front lines of this crisis. In addition, despite President Trump’s direct opposition, it maintains funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment grant program that helps states and territories deliver lifesaving treatment to some 1.5 million individuals every year." - Rep. Paul Tonko

Overview of Rep. Tonko's Leadership to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Northeast Public Radio: Congressman Tonko Raising Stakes In Battle Against Opioid Epidemic

Sponsored Legislation

H.R. 3692: the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act
would build on progress made under CARA, adding additional nursing specialists to those able to prescribe MAT and codifying a cap increase for the number of MAT patients doctors can treat at any given time. Endorsed by the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.

H.R. 4005: the Medicaid Reentry Act would allow states to restart Medicaid benefits for beneficiaries leaving jail or prison 30 days before release.

H.R. 5261: TEACH to Combat Addiction Act would provide grant funding to create regional centers of excellence in substance use disorder education.

Rep. Tonko also co-sponsors:

  • H.R. 324: Medicaid Bump Act – would increase federal Medicaid funding to states for mental/behavioral health services.
  • *H.R. 449: Synthetic Drug Awareness Act – would require the Surgeon General to issue a report to Congress on the increased use of synthetic drugs among youths.
  • H.R. 676: Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act – would provide all Americans with comprehensive health care coverage, including substance use treatment.
  • *H.R. 982: The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment Act – would allow Medicaid to cover substance use and mental health services for eligible incarcerated individuals.
  • *H.R. 1173: Medicare Mental Health Access Act – would include clinical psychologists within the definition for physician in the Medicare program.
  • *H.R. 1271: DXM Abuse Prevention Act – would require retailers to verify that individuals purchasing drugs containing dextromethorphan over the counter are above the age of 18.
  • H.R. 2336: Behavioral Health Care Integration Act – would provide federal funding for enhancing integration between primary care and behavioral health care providers.
  • H.R. 2337: To amend title XIX of the Social Security Act – would provide enhanced Medicaid funding for statewide behavioral health access programs for adolescents.
  • *H.R. 2345: National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act – would require the FCC to examine the feasibility of designating a three-digit dialing code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system
  • *H.R. 3192: CHIP Mental Health Parity Act – would ensure that mental health and substance use parity requirements are fully applied to the Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • H.R. 3495: Opioid and Heroin Abuse Crisis Investment Act – would provide $500,000,000 annually to state-led prevention, treatment and recovery responses to the opioid epidemic.
  • *H.R. 3528: Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act – would require prescriptions for Controlled Substances under Medicare to be electronically transmitted.
  • *H.R. 3832: Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act – would require the V.A. to contract with a nationwide prescription drug monitoring program.
  • H.R. 4097: Medicare Beneficiary Opioid Addiction Treatment Act – would require Medicare to cover methadone for addiction treatment under Medicare Part B.
  • H.R. 4778: Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act – would strengthen mental health and substance use parity requirements in health insurance.

    *denotes legislation with bipartisan sponsors

Public Advocacy

Delivered Constituent's Personal Plea to President Donald Trump During 2018 State of the Union

Paul W. Collins, a retired firefighter with a 27 year career at the Troy Fire Department, reached out to ask the Congressman to please share with the President his family's painful story of loss at the hands of substance use disorder. Collins lost his daughter Ashley to a drug overdose less than a year earlier. He provided references to several photos on social media including one of him holding a sign and wearing his firefighting helmet at a political rally in Albany supporting then-candidate Trump. The Congressman printed the photo and showed it to the President as he was walking up to the dais to deliver his State of the Union.

When asked about the encounter, Tonko explained: "My message was simple. Paul Collins is a constituent of mine and a supporter of yours. His daughter died recently from a drug overdose. He asked me to deliver his personal plea to respond to this crisis. The President's response was something like 'we’ll talk.' I plan to make sure we do. When he was leaving the dais, I repeated to him that we need to work together and the President seemed to acknowledge that. I expect he will remember the exchange. He certainly needs to. because we need the President to get on board with those of us who are actually working on the issue."

Click here to read Rep. Tonko's follow-up letter to the President
(also see: signing photo)

Related coverage:

Visit to Camino Nuevo in Albany, NY, Thursday, February 1st

Congressman Tonko visited Camino Nuevo, a treatment facility that provides recovery programs, medication-assisted treatment and a safe-haven for individuals working to establish their own paths to recovery. The visit included a discussion with facility leaders and clinicians, a facility tour to multiple areas of the facility as well as personal conversations with clients currently receiving treatment.

Why? Official studies show that just 1 in 5 individuals suffering from Substance Use Disorder is receiving treatment. This massive treatment gap means countless individuals and families are left without support, stuck on long waiting lists and unable to get access to life-saving care.

Related coverage:

State of the Union Special Guest Brendan Norton, Saratoga Springs, NY

Brendan was born in Stillwater, NY and currently resides in Saratoga Springs. After a life threatening leg injury at the age 23, numerous surgeries and intense physical therapy, Brendan became addicted to prescription opiate pain killers. That addiction hounded him as he worked to earn a bachelor’s degree from Siena College in marketing/management in 2010. After struggling with addiction for many years, Brendan got on the path to recovery. He earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from the University at Buffalo with a 4.0 GPA. Brendan is now a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and recently started a new job working at The Prevention Council as a Family Support Navigator helping families impact by addiction to build resilience.

Related coverage:

Visit to Albany County Correctional Facility, Thursday, January 25th

Received a detailed briefing on the Sheriff's Heroin Addiction and Recovery Program (SHARP), a leading local program supporting individuals who suffer from addiction as they transition out of incarceration and continue their recovery. Participants included: Sheriff Craig D. Apple Sr, superintendent of the correctional facility Michael Lyons, Albany County correctional facilities program director Theron Rockwell, K CSAC / substance abuse director Joan Wennstrom and chief deputy of the law-enforcement division/special project manager Kerry B. Thompson.

Why? Individuals transitioning out of incarceration who suffer from addiction are eight times (8x) more likely to die of an overdose in their first week after transition. Congressman Tonko has introduced legislation, the Medicaid Reentry Act, which would move up the date at which these individuals would be eligible for Medicaid support prior to their transition out of incarceration, ensuring greater access to treatment and continuity of care. Medicaid eligibility is one of the most important sources of care and treatment for individuals with substance use disorder.

Related coverage:

Faces of Addiction and Recovery constituent round-table, Saturday, January 27th

Hosted round-table discussion with constituents from the 20th Congressional District of New York.

Congressman Tonko convened the second in his Faces of the Capital Region constituent series to hear from individuals whom he represents in Congress whose lives have been affected by the addiction epidemic. The stories of these local individuals put a powerful and emotional face on an issue of grave and growing national importance.

Related coverage:

Talks with Tonko: Addiction & Recovery expert strategy session, Thursday, February 1st

Congressman Tonko hosted a strategy session with local health officials and experts at his Alhany office on how to propel federal action, coordinating directly with the professionals on the front lines of the opioid epidemic to develop next steps and guidance on what immediate and future actions are needed on this urgent issue.


  • Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, Commissioner, Albany County Department of Health and co-chair of Opioid Task Force in Albany County
  • Dr. Stephen J. Giordano, Director, Albany County Department of Mental Health and co-chair of Opioid Task Force in Albany County
  • Ms. Lisa A. Ayers, RN, BSN, Interim Director of Public Health, Schenectady County Public Health Department
  • Mr. Darin Samaha, Director of Community Services, Schenectady County Office of Community Services
  • Mr. Robert Kent, General Counsel, New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)
  • Deputy Police Chief Mike Woods, Town of Colonie
  • Dr. Carlton J. Rule, Vice President of Ellis Hospital, and Executive Medical Director of the Ellis Medical Group (EMG). Dr. Rule also chairs Ellis’ Opioid Initiative group
  • Dr. Michael Dailey, Director of Pre-Hospital Care and Education, Albany Medical Center
  • Ms. Lauri Cole, Executive Director, NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
  • Mr. Keith Stack, Executive Director, The Addictions Care Center of Albany, Inc.
  • Ms. Davia Collington, Project Coordinator, Troy Drug Free Community Coalition
  • Ms. Allison Weingarten, Director of Policy, Friends of Recovery - New York

Letter to Constituents on Addiction & Recovery, January 22, 2018

On January 22nd, Rep. Tonko sent a constituent letter highlighting the issue, his priorities and the importance of taking immediate and meaningful action that will save lives and help prevent the epidemic from continuing to accelerate. A full page scan of the letter can be found here.

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Contact Paul

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Washington D.C. Office

2369 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
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Albany, NY 12210
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Schenectady, NY 12305
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Amsterdam Office

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Amsterdam, NY 12010
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