Health Policy$ense

Senate Passes Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Bill

Bill now heads to the House

Congress is getting serious about the substance abuse epidemic.  Today the Senate passed, 94–1, a bipartisan opioid abuse bill (S. 524 - Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016).  This rare show of collaboration between parties comes as the realities of opioid and substance abuse ravaging communities across the country takes center stage in the current election cycle.  

The bill authorizes grants to states and local groups for an array of programs to combat the epidemic.  These programs focus on education, prevention, recovery, and treatment, and include:

  • Community-based coalitions to address local drug crises;
  • Treatment alternatives to incarceration;
  • Training for law enforcement and first responders in the use of naxolone (a drug that can reverse overdoses);
  • Expansion of disposal sites for unwanted prescription drugs;
  • Evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions, including medication assisted treatment, in high-abuse areas and through criminal justice agencies;
  • Support for recovery from substance use disorders in high schools and post-secondary institutions.

The bill utilizes up to $400 million in funds available from last year’s omnibus bill. Democrats had unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to include an additional $600 million in emergency funding;  Republicans argued that the existing funds are adequate to fund these initiatives. 

The bill will now be sent over to the House, where there is no clear timeline as to when and how Representatives will address this crisis.  But with 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2014, not everyone has time for policymakers to figure it out.