US Senate LogoPresident Barack Obama is expected to sign a bill that will help fight the heroin and painkiller epidemic in the U.S. after the Senate approved the bill in a 92-2 vote on Wednesday, July 13th.

The bill, known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), previously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, the bill heads directly to the President. If Obama signs the bill, there would be grants and various other programs that would help address drug abuse with a special focus on opioids and heroin. For instance, programs to help people seek treatment and programs to address overdoses would be established. According to the U.S. Centers for Human and Health Services, less than half of the approximately 2.2 million Americans who need such help are actually getting it.

In addition, emergency personnel would be trained on how to administer drugs to reverse opioid overdoses. Communities would also get help to purchase the overdose reversal drugs.

While Democrats criticized the bill due to lack of funding, they agreed to support it and work on the funding at a later time. In a statement, Obama said he would sign the bill “because some action is better than none”.

If Obama signs the bill, $181 million would go towards programs to help fight opioid and heroin addiction. However, according to Democrats, the funding may or may not be there due to conflicts in Congress about the funding for next year. Democrats asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) to support the bill by providing $600 million in emergency funds. Obama himself requested $920 million for opioid treatment programs for two years. In a similar move, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wants $34 million for opioid treatment centers in the Commonwealth.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) issued the following statement after CARA passed in the Senate:

“Today, the Senate showed it can work together on a bipartisan basis to address a deadly epidemic affecting so many families in Pennsylvania and across America. By passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, we can begin to reduce the scourge of prescription drug and heroin abuse that has touched almost every corner of our commonwealth,” said Sen. Toomey.

“I am especially pleased that this bill includes my bipartisan amendment to allow Medicare to employ the same tool used by Medicaid and private insurers to stop addictive pill diversion. My measure will help seniors battling addiction get treatment, while preventing fraudsters from visiting multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain commercial-scale quantities of opioids, which are then diverted to the black market.”

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said that the bill would be “the first time” addiction has been regarded as a disease and that it will help end the stigma that is attached to addiction.

Both Democrats and Republicans worked together to get the bill passed, but some Democrats believe the bill has problems. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that the bill lacks “substance”.

There is no question that something needs to be done to curb the heroin and opioid addiction problem in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people who died from drug overdoses was the highest in 2014. Those deaths were caused from heroin and prescription painkillers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 28,000 people lost their lives due to opioid overdoses in 2014. Also according to the HHS, a prescription opioid contributed to a minimum of half of those deaths. HHS also states that over 10,500 people lost their lives due to heroin in 2014. The number of heroin-related deaths have increased more than threefold since 2010. Some of the drugs being abused include fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. These prescriptions are used to manage pain.

 

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