After days of debate, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to combat the growing epidemic of painkiller and heroin abuse by a 94-1 vote on March 10 (Source: “Senate Passes Bill to Combat Heroin, Painkiller Abuse,” Washington Post, March 10, 2016).
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) co-authored the bill with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Sen. Portman emphasized how critical the bill’s programs will be in Ohio, where heroin and opioid abuse problems lead to nearly one death every three hours.
If passed by the House, the legislation would establish grant programs to help state and local governments improve education and treatment for prescription drug and heroin abuse, encourage physicians and other medical professionals to reduce unnecessary prescriptions by allowing for the partial filling for prescriptions for opioids, commit resources to help veterans deal with addiction, authorize a drug management program for Medicare beneficiaries at-risk for prescription drug abuse, and give local law enforcement and mental health officials tools to lower the death rate from overdoses.
A key provision would provide states with incentives to make naloxone, which can counteract overdoses, more widely available by offering liability protections to officials who distribute it.