Congressman’s bill fine-tunes addiction aid

Federal legislation for helping people with drug addiction and mental health problems has been introduced this week by a Williamsport area lawmaker.

U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, is co-sponsor of the Helping Americans Seek Treatment Act of 2018, which helps increase awareness of the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, or SAMHSA.

The helpline is a free and confidential service for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Marino and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, are introducing the bill that also requires the SAMHSA to inform those calling the helpline about pre-arrest referral programs.

Pre-arrest referral programs help steer low-risk drug offenders toward treatment rather than prison.

“We have seen too many people lose their lives to drug addiction over the years with no clear end in sight,” Marino said. “This is a serious problem and Congress must act. As a former district attorney and United States attorney, I understand the importance of strict drug laws. However, I do not believe we can arrest our way out of this opioid crisis. The Helping Americans Seek Treatment Act will help individuals suffering with substance use disorder and their families get the information they need to seek treatment and live a healthy, drug-addiction free lifestyle.”

Bass said new and creative ways must be found for dealing with the opioid epidemic that has touched all parts of the nation.

“I’m proud to co-sponsor this piece of legislation, which will improve access to prison alternatives and lifesaving services,” she said. “We’ve seen the devastation that attempting to arrest our way out of a drug epidemic can cause. This bill offers alternatives to past failed strategies and I urge my colleagues to support it. “

In May, Marino voted in favor of the American Health Care Act to repeal “Obamacare.”

Critics of the bill, which passed in the House, say among its provisions would have been the stripping away of essential coverage for drug addiction and mental health services under Medicaid in states that expanded it.

“Critics are wrong on that,” he said. “It’s making certain resources are going to the right place in an effective manner.”

He said “Obamacare” has often removed the accountability of how funds are used.

His bill, he said, provides a system where immediate help can be reached for a drug addiction or mental health problem.

Marino said his work with Bass is a sign that lawmakers can still reach across party lines.