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U.S. Congress Passes Opioid Abuse Bill

opioid bill

Congress passed a compromise bill 92-2 to confront an increasingly urgent problem that has become a hot issue in an election year. The legislation’s passage comes despite a prolonged dispute over funding, with Democrats arguing the authorization bill won’t be sufficient to combat the epidemic. Authorization bills like the opioid measure allow money to be spent for certain purposes, but it takes an appropriations bill to actually direct that it is spent.

Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors in the body to produce morphine-like effects. Opioids are most often used medically to relieve pain. Opioids include opiates, an older term that refers to such drugs derived from opium, including morphine itself.

Such opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, were involved in 61 percent of the 47,055 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2014,  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2000 through 2014, overdose deaths involving opioids have tripled. Fatalities related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as powerful as heroin, are soaring in many parts of the country.

“A massive infusion of funding this year for medication-assisted treatment, naloxone and diversion programs by Congress is essential if we are to truly turn the tide on the opioid crisis,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance.

“While the president will sign this bill once it reaches his desk because some action is better than none, he won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands,” the White House said in a statement following the vote.

“Republican senators are going to run home to tout its passage as if they have single-handedly solved the opioid crisis in this country, but that won’t be true,” said Sen.

Chuck Schumer (Democrat, New York) in a speech on the senate floor before the vote. “They won’t tell people it doesn’t include a dime for new treatment beds, a dollar for a drug counselor’s salary, the needed increases in money for law enforcement,” Mr. Schumer said. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Republican, Iowa) said the complaints from Democrats, who ultimately voted in favor of the bill, were misplaced. He said current Senate appropriations bills already increase funding to fight the opioid epidemic by 57 percent over fiscal year 2016 levels.

The opioid bill “holds great promise for the fight against opioid use disorders,” the Democrats said. “However, that promise — to help families coping with the devastating toll of this epidemic — can only be realized with real dollars needed to deliver life-saving prevention and treatment services.”

Some of the same people, however, say lawmakers blew an opportunity to strengthen the country’s ability to track the opioid prescriptions that are fueling an epidemic of overdose deaths.

An older version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would have boosted grants for databases that flag over-users of prescription drugs, but only for states that require physicians to check those databases before writing a prescription.

The final bill provides the grant money but will eliminate the requirement.

Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of the national anti-addiction advocacy organization Shatterproof, said the omission could have a potentially tragic effect for families across our country. “Without this incentive tied to federal grants, legislation at the state level will be adopted slower than it would with grants conditioned upon this requirement,” he said.

Despite the letter, no Democratic senator opposed the bill. The only two “no” votes came from Sens. Ben Sasse (Republican, Nebraska) and Mike Lee (Republican, Utah), who said they don’t believe fighting addiction is best addressed at the federal level.


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