- In a strong display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Thursday passed a major drug abuse prevention and treatment bill by a vote of 94 to 1, aiming to address the growing opioid overdose crisis in the U.S. The bill will now head to a vote in the House of Representatives.
- Broadly, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act seeks to expand education around prevention, increase the availability of naloxone, a drug which can treat overdoses, and strengthen drug monitoring programs.
- Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) campaigned aggressively for the bill, as opioid overdoses have hit their states hard. Ohio had the second highest total of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2014, second only to California.
Drug overdose deaths have increased steadily over the last decade, surpassing 47,000 in 2014 and rising above the number of Americans who are killed in car accidents each year. Increases in prescription opioid overdoses make up a large part of the overall trend, accounting for 61% (28,647) of overall overdose deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recently, a bipartisan group of Senators have loosely coalesced around the issue, driving up its visibility during the nomination process for FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. In addition to Portman and Ayotte, Democratic Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have been outspoken about the need for a greater nationwide response.
Discord about additional $600 million in funding
Although CARA passed with an almost unanimous majority, there was bipartisan disagreement regarding an additional funding measure which would provide $600 million in extra funding. That amendment did not pass, much to the chagrin of Democrats. Five Republicans, including Senators Portman and Ayotte, also voted for the extra funding measure, according to the New York Times.
Nonetheless, passage of CARA in the Senate was seen as a victory by its advocates. In a press release , Senator Portman said, "Today’s strong bipartisan vote is a victory for American families who are struggling with the disease of addiction. We know that the abuse of heroin and prescription drugs is tearing apart families and devastating our communities."
Senator Ayotte urged the House to also pass the bill saying, "CARA is a significant step forward in the federal response to this crisis, and I urge my colleagues in the House to pass this bill right away so we can take action to save lives in New Hampshire and across the country."
A weakened bill?
However, the failed funding amendment may pull some of the teeth out of the bill. The Obama administration has previously voiced its concern that CARA doesn't include the necessary funding to actually implement the bill.
"Until that funding is provided by the Congress, these steps would do little to address the epidemic," the administration said in a policy statement March 1st.
Manchin echoed the need for greater funding, indicating he will continue to push for new measures. "I will continue to fight for my other measures that will put real resources behind this fight to end the opioid epidemic because this fight is one we must win," he said.