Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: March 28, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. BIDEN (for himself, Mr. KENNEDY, and Mr. ENZI):

S. 1011. A bill to change the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction and to change the name of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, for nearly 35 years I've been working on this floor to address the all too real public health and safety issues associated with drug and alcohol addiction. Stiff prosecution of trafficking and possession of illegal drugs is important; but just as critical is an intense focus on prevention and treatment. To this end, if we are to be successful in this fight, we--you, me, all of us--must understand that addiction is a neurobiological disease, not a lifestyle choice. The frank and constructive approach to help those struggling with the disease of addiction, and to protect society from the crime and violence that sometimes accompany drug trafficking and use, is through treatment. We must continually work hard to resist the counterproductive social stigma that too often brands addicts and thereby encourages them to slip into seclusion rather than seek treatment. As such, we must begin to change the nature of public discourse about addiction by more appropriately naming our own research institutes to reflect this reality: Addition is a preventable and treatable disease.

Today, I rise to introduce legislation recognizing this reality that addiction is a disease and not a chronic, stigmatizing life-sentence. The Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007 changes the names of two institutes at the National Institutes of Health: the National Institute on Drug Abuse will become the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will become the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.

These name changes accomplish two important objectives. First, they remove the pejorative term ``abuse'' from the institutes' names and properly help to distance that notion from the disease of addiction. Second, the new names more clearly link the concepts of addiction and disease, a connection that scientific study clearly supports. Identifying addiction as a neurobiological disease will diminish the social stigma, discrimination, and the personal shame that is often a barrier to seeking treatment, and it will further a common understanding of diseases of addiction.

The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that addiction affects 23.2 million Americans in our country, of whom only about 10 percent are receiving the treatment they need. Many are deterred from seeking such treatment because of the social stigma associated with admitting to a drug or alcohol dependency. This bill is a small but important step towards remedying this problem, fighting drug use, and successfully treating addiction.

Addiction is now understood to be a disease because scientific research has shown that alcohol and other drugs can change the brain's structure and function. Advances in brain imaging science now make it possible to see inside an addict's brain and pinpoint the parts of the brain affected by drugs or alcohol. These insights will enable the development of new approaches to prevention and treatment. In fact, we now have data indicating that excessive alcohol use and alcohol dependence (alcoholism) are not separate diagnostic categories, but exist along a single continuum of alcohol-disorders associated with increased frequency of a harmful drinking pattern.

Today's introduction of this legislation is timely. Two weeks ago HBO premiered an important new documentary movie, Addiction, which presents an encouraging look at addiction as a treatable disease and the film chronicles the major scientific advances that have helped us better understand and treat addiction. The Institutes collaborated with HBO to create this eye-opening documentary that seeks to help Americans understand addiction. HBO's Addiction Project will acquaint viewers with available evidence-based medical and behavioral treatments. This is especially important for disorders like addiction that for many years were treated outside the medical mainstream. From emergency rooms to living rooms to research laboratories, the documentary follows the trail of an illness that affects one in four families in the United States.

The facts surrounding addiction are self-evident. With nearly 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 suffering from some form of substance dependency, addiction takes an emotional, psychological, and social toll on the country. The economic costs of substance dependency and addiction alone are estimated to exceed a half trillion dollars annually in the United States due to health care expenditures, lost productivity, and crime.

I am proud to say that my friends and very distinguished colleagues Senators KENNEDY and ENZI, chairman and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, respectively, are cosponsors of this important bill.

Today, the Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007 takes a small but important stride towards helping those struggling with diseases of addiction.

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