Sen. Chris Murphy touts bipartisan legislation crucial to ending addiction, mental health crisis

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said the Mental Health Reform Act would attack both the addiction crisis and the broader health epidemic facing the nation. Courtesy photo

By:  Sam Norton
The Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN >> After introducing bipartisan legislation in the Senate that aims to break the cycle of addiction and address broader health issues gripping the country, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is urging lawmakers to act on the growing need for a comprehensive overhaul of the mental health system.

During the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast on Monday, chamber members gathered to hear Murphy discuss the issues facing Middlesex County and the rest of the state.

While Connecticut’s junior senator praised job growth in the state and reflected on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, he focused his attention on the need for legislation that would help individuals overcome drug and alcohol addiction in America.

In August 2015, Murphy introduced the Mental Health Reform Act with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. The bill encourages states to break down the walls between physical and mental health-care systems by requiring them to identify barriers in integrations. States would also be eligible for grants of up to $2 million for five years. However, Murphy explained, priority will be given to states that have already taken action.

The act would also designate an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse and establish new programs for early intervention.

“[Cassidy] and I built a coalition of eight Republican and eight Democratic senators to introduce the Mental Health Reform Act, which is the first comprehensive health-reform legislation that has been introduced in the Senate,” Murphy said.

The bill, which accompanies the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania, has received support from the American Medical Association, the National Alliance on Mental Health and the National Council for Behavioral Health, among many other organizations.

The legislation, which would funnel more resources into the system, comes at a time when overdoses are steadily increasing throughout the state.

Last year, 14 people died of heroin-related overdoses in Middletown alone, and in 2014, there were six fatalities.

“The rate of deaths from opioid abuse from heroin overdose is twice what it was just a handful of years ago. Lives are being ruined,” Murphy said.

East Hampton has been touched by fatalities as well recently — including the suspected overdose deaths of two people within less than eight hours of one another on New Year’s Eve.

In order to address this alarming statistic, Murphy said his bill would increase the number of health-care providers and create more in-patient mental health and addiction beds.

“We lost 4,000 in-patient mental health beds since the recession began. We have less providers that are available to treat people with addiction and mental health and the number of kids suffering from mental health or addiction has skyrocketed,” Murphy said.

According to Betsey Chadwick, director of the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council, in order to truly help those struggling with addiction, there needs to be more of an emphasis on prevention and long-term recovery.

“Once you’re an addict, you’re an addict for life. You’ve altered your brain and your brain will never go back to where it was before you introduced the addictive drug,” Chadwick said.

“We need to intervene at the early stage. It’s always easier to prevent a disease rather than treat a disease,” Chadwick said. “It’s like ripping a Band-Aid off of this deep wound and realizing we need some triage here at the community level.”

Murphy said the Health Committee is in the final stages of negotiating the bill and hopes to vote on it in the coming weeks. “It is by far one of the truly bipartisan bills that might be able to make it to the floor in an election year. It might be one of the few victories we may have on a bipartisan basis.”