Senate Expected To Pass Broad Bill To Address Opioid Epidemic

Jul 13, 2016
Originally published on July 13, 2016 8:18 am
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And the Senate this morning is set to vote on a bill to address the epidemic of opioid addiction. NPR's Alison Kodjak reports the bill has many new policies, but not so much new funding to pay for them.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: The bill is an amalgam of more than a dozen proposals passed through the year in the House and Senate, and it has widespread support on Capitol Hill and among addiction treatment advocates. But last week, its future was in doubt. That's because the version agreed to by House and Senate Republicans didn't include funding to expand addiction treatment programs. The president asked for 1.1 billion dollars. The bill is likely to include only about half that. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander argued that the money for treatment has been rising for three years.

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LAMAR ALEXANDER: Our friends on the other side say you need to fund it. We are funding it. And they helped fund it. We've increased funding for opioids already by 542 percent.

KODJAK: Today, Democrats are expected to support the bill, even without the additional money. That's a good thing, says Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Behavioral Health, because the bill helps expand treatment in different ways. For example, it allows nurses and physician assistants to treat people with addictions using medications.

LINDA ROSENBERG: Treatment capacity is really a crisis. There just isn't enough. But what this bill does to begin to address that is it expands the kind of people that can prescribe medication for addictions. And that's a very big deal.

KODJAK: She says the bill also helped change the definition of addiction from a crime to a health problem.

ROSENBERG: It's a health care issue, not a moral failing issue.

KODJAK: That theme runs throughout the legislation. There are provisions to insure police refer addicts to treatment rather than prison. And it allows more people to have access to naloxone, the drug that reverses an opioid overdose, including people in schools and community centers. Mike Kelly is the U.S. president of Adapt Pharmaceuticals, which sells Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone.

MIKE KELLY: This bill addresses getting Narcan out into the community outside of emergency and first responders. The big thing here is this will fund recovery.

KODJAK: If it passes the Senate as expected, the bill will likely be on the president's desk at the end of the week. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.