Congress sends first major opioids bill to Obama’s desk

Portman co-sponsored bill to treat and prevent drug deaths that plague nation.

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved Wednesday a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman that calls for spending hundreds of millions of federal dollars on programs aimed at treating or preventing thousands of drug deaths that plague the nation.

By a vote of 92-2, the Senate sent the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature. The measure would authorize the federal government to spend $905 million during the next five years in hope of making a dent in the rising addiction to heroin or prescription drugs.

In a floor speech Wednesday, Portman, R-Ohio, said the bill would not be “the silver bullet. It’s not going to solve all the problems.” But he insisted “this will help.”

The bill was the handiwork of Portman, Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The four lawmakers cited the bill as an example of both political parties able to accomplish something in a bitter election year.

“The American people are tired of the partisanship,” Portman said.

But the measure also is a major feature of Portman’s re-election bid this year against former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Portman has blanketed the state with TV commercials pointing to his role in pushing the measure through Congress.

The bill would authorize Congress to spend $181 million annually during the next five years with a greater emphasis on treatment. But while the bill authorizes the spending, Congress will need to follow with a spending measure to appropriate the money.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who voted for the measure, said “while we have taken a bipartisan step forward today, this bill alone is not enough. We must recognize the opioid epidemic for what it is — a public health emergency — and invest the real dollars it takes to combat it.”

The House approved the same measure last week by a vote of 407-to-5.

The bill aims to counter the growing addiction to both illegal heroin and legal opioids, which are prescription drugs such as Percocet and oxycodone. The National Institutes of Health reports as many as 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids and heroin while the Centers for Disease Control reported 28,000 people died in 2014 because of drug overdoses.

Earlier this year, musical superstar Prince died because of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, an opioid often used to mitigate the impact of other drugs.

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