Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Oct 24 2018

President Signs into Law Comprehensive Bill to Address Opioid Epidemic, Includes Heitkamp’s Provisions to Combat Childhood Trauma, Fight Addiction Crisis in Rural America

Since Serving as ND’s Attorney General, Senator Has Been Leading Efforts to Tackle the Long-Term Impacts of Substance Abuse and Childhood Exposure to Trauma

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that the President signed into law bipartisan legislation she helped pass to address the opioid and methamphetamine epidemic in North Dakota and across the country. The comprehensive bill includes several of Heitkamp’s provisions that will help mitigate the detrimental effects exposure to trauma, like a parent’s drug abuse, can have on children.

Traumatic experiences such as those related to addiction can lead to severe health and behavioral complications that can negatively impact children throughout their lives, especially in rural or underserved areas. Young people who experience four or more traumatic events are three times more at risk of heart disease or lung cancer, while those who experience six or more traumatic events are 30 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Heitkamp’s trauma-related provisions in the opioid law will establish a task force to identify the best ways to combat trauma, boost awareness about the prevalence of trauma, give North Dakota schools the mental health resources they need, and address shortages of trauma-informed workers in rural America.

“As more North Dakota families are devastated by the scourge of addiction, we need to dramatically increase our support for prevention, treatment, and first responder efforts—and this bill is a major step in that fight,” said Heitkamp. “As part of a full-court press against this public health crisis, I’ve long pushed for legislation that addresses the impacts of childhood exposure to trauma, because we have far too many kids who could be scarred for life due to this epidemic. With this bipartisan bill now signed into law, my provisions will help promote successful interventions and boost the mental and behavioral health workforce in Indian Country and rural areas. By putting more kids and families on the road to recovery and improved mental health, we are building stronger and safer communities long into the future.”

Over the past few years, drug abuse and drug-related deaths have steeply risen across rural America. In North Dakota, drug-related deaths increased by nearly 400 percent from 2013 to 2016. And from 1999 to 2015, opioid deaths in rural America quadrupled among 18-25 year olds.

To help address these rising rates of overdose deaths, the bill includes Heitkamp’s provisions to improve the Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grant program, which she proposed in legislation she introduced earlier this year. The legislation will increase flexibility for local communities to address the addiction crisis, enable tribes to apply directly for grants, and create a tribal set-aside. 

The provisions from Heitkamp’s Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act she fought to include in the law will help combat the crisis and boost access to trauma-informed treatment by:

  • Establishing an interagency task force to identify best practices. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, and relevant tribal agency professionals will work to identify a set of best practices that improve capacity and coordination for the identification, referral, and support of children and families that have experienced or at risk of experiencing trauma.
  • Understanding the prevalence of trauma. Data collection and reporting by states will be expanded to include Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in behavioral health surveys.
  • Increasing funding for the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative. Funding will provide technical assistance, direct services to communities, and will support evaluations and dissemination of best practices in trauma-informed care for children and families.
  • Integrating mental health practices in schools. Grants will link educational agencies with mental health systems to increase student access to evidence-based trauma support services to help prevent and mitigate trauma that children and youth experience due to substance abuse.
  • Addressing workforce shortages. Health professionals in the National Health Service Corps will be able to provide behavioral and mental health services in schools or other community-based settings. Additionally, trauma-informed training will be included as part of graduate education and training programs.

Heitkamp has long been a leader in drawing attention and proposing solutions to childhood trauma and its lifelong impacts. In August, Heitkamp met with several grandparents who have adopted or are fostering their grandkids as a result of suicide, substance abuse, and other circumstances that leave the children’s biological parents unable to care for them— a setup known as grandfamilies. During their discussion, she discussed with the families the impact of $20 million in federal funding she helped secure to support family caretakers of vulnerable children.

Last month, Heitkamp held a roundtable discussion on combating the substance abuse and addiction crisis in North Dakota with community leaders, law enforcement officers, and health care professionals. Howard G. Buffett— a philanthropist, county sheriff, and businessman— joined Heitkamp to share his views on the negative effects of the opioid epidemic, particularly those he has witnessed during his time as a rural law enforcement official in Macon County, Illinois.

And as a member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Heitkamp earlier this week participated in a hearing on combatting the trafficking of illegal fentanyl from China. The hearing included testimony from administration officials, including from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to discuss the development and implementation of new strategies to crack down on fentanyl produced in China and shipped to the United States.

As part of her Strong and Safe Communities Initiative, Heitkamp has held discussions across North Dakota over the past few years on combating opioid and other substance abuse. These have included meetings in BismarckGrand ForksMinot, Fargo, Jamestown, Dickinson, and Hazen.

Background

Since fighting North Dakota’s methamphetamine crisis as the state’s attorney general in the 1990s, Heitkamp has been working to stem the tide of addiction, abuse, and illegal drug trafficking in the state’s rural communities.

Heitkamp has worked to combat North Dakota’s opioid abuse crisis through intervention and treatment, including by introducing a bill called the LifeBOAT Act to provide more federal resources to address the epidemic. She also introduced a bill to expand a critical federal grant program to provide $12 billion over five years for local organizations to treat drug abuse and addiction while preventing further overdoses. Additionally, she helped pass legislation in 2016, which became law, which offers community-based prevention and treatment resources to combat opioid abuse.

And Heitkamp has consistently fought to prioritize robust, direct funding to tribal communities as they address the drug abuse and addiction crisis in Indian Country. In March 2018, Heitkamp participated in a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on combating the opioid addiction epidemic in Indian Country. While grilling a U.S. Department of Justice official, Heitkamp stressed the serious need for more federal law enforcement agents on reservations to provide quality criminal investigations and crack down on illegal narcotics trafficking. Click here to see the full video from the hearing.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov