The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to tackle the nation’s opioid crisis, sending to the president’s desk the most sweeping drug legislation in years in a rare instance of consensus in Congress.
The bill holds proposals that would strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts, largely by empowering medical professionals and law enforcement officials with more tools to help drug addicts. It also includes emergency access to a drug that could be uses to help reverse overdoses.
It also incorporates elements of the 18 opioid-related bills passed by the House in May, including provisions to do the following:
Create training programs for providers to test co-prescription for at-risk patients;
Establish an interagency task force that will examine best practices for pain management and pain medication prescription;
Raise awareness and education around the safe care of infants born affected by illegal substances; and
Require the Government Accountability Office to track and report on the capacity for inpatient and outpatient treatment for opioid abuse disorders.
Being the Republican from Ohio, a state plagued by opioid addiction, Senator Rob Portman described that this is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery. He also stated that this is the first time that addiction is treated like the disease that it is which will put an end to the stigma that surrounds addiction.
Mr. Portman, who has long pushed for improved policies on opioid and heroin addiction, said he was optimistic the Senate Appropriations Committee would fully fund the policy measure — which, he said, calls for increasing overall funding by 47 percent. He also quoted that this is an authorization bill that authorizes more money than ever before for opioids.
Tensions over spending threatened to derail the measure as Democrats insisted the Senate also vote on immediate funding to pay for the programs the bill authorizes. Republicans said funding would be addressed in the appropriations process later this year. Congress also has plans to send a spending bill to the President for his approval. As this fiscal year ends this Sept. 30, Congress has only a few weeks to do so.
Democrats were unmoved, citing Congress’s chronic difficulties in passing spending bills. The Obama administration has urged Congress to add funding into this bill, including $920 million for states to help treat addicts.
Democrats pressed to start on Wednesday with a measure that would devote $600 million in emergency funding, which typically means the money would not need to be made up with cuts to other programs.
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