Senate Approves Expansive Bill to Prevent and Treat Addiction

The Senate passed an extensive bill to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic by a near-unanimous margin March 10.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) would provide partial funding for programs to prevent drug abuse, treat addiction and reduce the number of drug overdoses across the country. A companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House.

“In Rhode Island, I’ve seen addiction touch people in all walks of life, reach communities big and small, and claim far too many lives,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), one of the bill’s authors, in a written statement.

“This bill treats addiction like the illness it is,” he said. “The bill will help states give law enforcement officers, health care providers, family members and all those on the front lines of this battle a better shot at success.”

If approved by the House and the president, the act would:

  • Expand opioid prevention, treatment and recovery efforts targeting teens, parents and caregivers.
  • Create resources for the identification and treatment of incarcerated individuals who suffer from addiction.
  • Increase the accessibility of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal agent.
  • Promote best practices for opioid treatment and intervention.
  • Bolster prescription drug monitoring programs.
  • Expand and increase prescription medication disposal sites.

Sens. Whitehouse and Rob Portman (R-OH) authored the bill, which was co-sponsored by 42 additional senators. It passed by a 94 – 1 vote.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) voted against the bill, three presidential candidates skipped the vote and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) missed the vote because she was receiving cancer treatment, according to the Washington Post.

More than 47,000 people died from deaths related to drug overdoses in 2014, an increase of more than 3,000 deaths from 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recently announced new guidelines to curb unnecessary prescriptions of opioids, a primary contributor to drug overdoses in the past decade.

The senate’s bill also adds to numerous legislative efforts by the states to combat the prescription drug epidemic in recent years.

“I don’t know of a single specific objection on the House side, and they’d be very hard-pressed to find one,” Whitehouse said, according to the Washington Post.

$600 Million in Additional Funding Denied

The senate denied an amendment to add $600 million of funding to the bill earlier in March. The supporters argued the additional funds would be necessary for the efforts to be effective. However, the amendment received 48 votes, 12 shy of the number required.

Senators who opposed the amendment believed the bill already possessed enough funding to begin the projects, and the rest of the funding should come from future budget cuts, according to the Washington Post.

“It just seems ill-advised, to say the least, to appropriate more money when in fact there’s already $571 million available to deal with this epidemic,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the Post.

It is still unclear where the rest of the money to fund the bill will come from.

“The (act) is good legislation that will help fight the heroin pandemic in the long term,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement. “However, without real dollars behind this bill, it’s the equivalent of offering a life preserver with no air in it.”

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