washingtonpost.com: Senate passes sweeping opioids package


An addict injects heroin, even as a fentanyl test strip registered a positive result for contamination, Wednesday Aug. 22, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Senate overwhelmingly passed on Monday evening a sweeping package of bills aimed at addressing the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.

The vote was 99 to 1 with only Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) dissenting.

President Trump and Congress vowed a federal government response to a crisis that affects millions of Americans and is responsible for the deaths of close to 50,000 last year. Trump has declared the epidemic a public health emergency. It is one of the only major pieces of legislation that Congress is expected to pass this year as lawmakers gear up for the midterm elections in November.

The package of 70 Senate bills costs $8.4 billion and creates, expands and renews programs across multiple agencies. It’s ambitious in scope, aiming to prevent the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl from being shipped through the U.S. Postal Service as well as allowing doctors to prescribe more medication designed to wean addicts off opioids, such as buprenorphine.

“It doesn’t include everything all of us want to see but it has important new initiatives and it’s a step in the right direction," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has advocated several measures that are part of the package.

“Congress is committing itself to actually putting politics aside. It’s not just bipartisan -- I think it’s nonpartisan."

Yet many public health advocates and experts say it doesn’t offer the one thing truly needed: The massive amount of funding needed to fully combat a crisis that deeply affects rural and urban communities across America.

Sarah Wakeman,the medical director for Mass General Hospital’s Substance Use Disorders Initiative, said really targeting the depth of the opioid epidemic would require an infusion of federal dollars on par with the more than $20 billion a year spent on HIV/AIDs.

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