Opioid Crisis Bill Cleared by Senate Heads to President Obama

The battle against the deadly opioid crisis in the United States is getting a major push from Capitol Hill.

The US Senate passed a bill by a 92-2 vote in mid-July 2016 that would authorize nearly $900 million over a five-year period to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives and remains a threat to thousands more.

The measure, called the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, would strengthen prevention, treatment, and drug recovery efforts, writes The New York Times, and give emergency medical workers and first responders, such as law enforcement and firefighters, wider access to naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of overdoses on heroin and other opioids.

“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,” said Sen. Bob Portman (R., Ohio). “This is also the first time that we’ve treated addiction like the disease that it is, which will help put an end to the stigma that has surrounded addiction for too long.”

He, along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), introduced the Senate version of the bill. The House of Representatives passed the measure with a 407-5 vote before the Senate’s action, and it is now headed to President Barack Obama, who plans to sign it into law.

According to GovTrack.us, the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act also would:

Improve prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion “and to help at-risk individuals access services,” because inefficiencies and loopholes in the current programs allow many individuals to game the system and obtain more drugs than they should.

Shift resources toward identifying and treating incarcerated people who are suffering from addiction, rather than just punishment as is often the case currently.

Prohibit the Department of Education from including questions about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) financial aid form.

While the pending drug legislation is historically significant, there is disagreement over the funding for the authorization bill between Democrats and Republicans. The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats say the bill won’t be enough to address the epidemic.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D., N.Y.) told The New York Times the bill wouldn’t provide money for increasing beds in hospitals and treatment providers. Some Republicans have said the bill would receive the funding it needs to be effective in the appropriations process later in 2016, according to The New York Times‘ article.

Opioid Crisis Killing More in US Than Auto Crashes

Overdoses on opioids, among them prescription painkillers, are now the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths, surpassing traffic accidents, officials have said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially labeled the opioid crisis an epidemic, reporting that drug overdose deaths in the US hit record numbers in 2014.

That year, more people died from drug overdoses than any other year on record, the agency says, and that from 2000 to 2015, nearly half a million people perished from drug overdoses.

“We now know that overdoses from prescription opioid pain relievers are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths,” the CDC says. The agency also urged expanding access to the antidote naloxone among its recommendations to treat opioid addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014.

Epidemic Cuts Across Race, Class, Income

If alarming statistics don’t get people’s attention to how serious the opioid crisis is, then perhaps the recent death of pop icon Prince will. Prince, whose birth name is Prince Rogers Nelson, reportedly died of an overdose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl on April 21, 2016. His passing illustrated that addiction claims lives, regardless of one’s race, gender, income level, or celebrity status.

The hard-hitting reality of the crisis makes it increasingly difficult to ignore that America has an opioid drug problem, which is why the legislation has received approval from bipartisan support.

Judy Rummler, founder and CFO of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, told Forbes in a recent interview that Prince’s death “is evidence of the fact that unintentional overdose deaths are not limited to unsuccessful, down-and-out people.” His death will help remove the stigma attached to overdose, mainly because of the media attention his death received, she said.

Prince was not alone in his alleged dependence on painkillers. Data from the SAMHSA show that nearly two million Americans abuse or were dependent on prescription drugs in 2014, the same year that is said to be the deadliest on record for drug overdoses.

The CDC reports that methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin), and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin) are the most commonly prescribed drugs that are involved in prescription opioid deaths. Also, more than half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

Opioid Dependence Often Starts with Pain

A study exploring the relationship between pain and opioid use disorder and pain that was published July 22, 2016, in the American Journal of Psychiatry has found that the more pain people have, the more likely they are to develop a dependence on potent opioid painkillers.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City highlighted results from a national survey of more than 34,000 Americans and found that people who reported moderate to severe pain had a 41 percent chance of higher risk of opioid addiction than those with no pain, according to the center’s news release about the study.

“These findings indicate that adults who report moderate or more severe pain are at increased risk of becoming addicted to prescription opioids,” said Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, the senior author of the report.

“In light of the national opioid abuse epidemic, these new results underscore the importance of developing effective, multimodal approaches to managing common painful medical conditions.”

Also from the center’s release:

“Males and younger adults were at increased risk of prescription opioid use disorders, a finding that confirms results of previous studies, the center. In addition, females and older adults were more likely to report pain. 

“In evaluating patients who present with pain, physicians should also be attentive to addiction risk factors such as age, sex and personal or family history of drug abuse,” Dr. Olfson added.

“If opioids are prescribed, it is important for clinicians to monitor their patients carefully for warning signs of opioid addiction.”

State Governors Unite in Response to Opioid Crisis

The fight against the public health crisis of opioid addiction isn’t only being addressed at the federal level. The National Governors Association announced in a July 13, 2016,  news release that 46 state governors have signed a pact to join the fight against opioid addiction.

According to the NGA’s release, the agreement stems from a resolution that was passed at the governors’ February 2016 meeting that outlines “the need for federal action to support states and collaboration from the private sector, particularly when it comes to reducing inappropriate opioid prescribing, a key driver of an epidemic that claims the lives of roughly 78 Americans every day.

“Though the discussion focused on opioid prescribing guidelines, governors agreed that broader collective action is needed to address all of the factors contributing to the crisis,” the news release reads.

Affected by Opioid Crisis? Get Help Now

Many people in the US are struggling with addiction or chemical dependence. You may be one of them, or someone you know may be among them.

If you, or your loved one, is battling an addiction to opioid painkillers, please get help today. “Breaking free of prescription drug abuse takes much more than willpower. Fortunately, medications and counseling can improve the chances of success,” says WebMD.

Call Drug Treatment Center Finder at 1-855-619-8070 today and let our advisers help you find a drug treatment program near you that can help you end your personal opioid crisis and overcome your dependence on the substance. It’s not too late to start a new chapter in your life, so call us today.

Staff writer :