McConnell touts bill to fight opioid abuse; blocks extra funding, says money is available and more should require cuts elsewhere

The U.S. Senate passed a bill 94-1 March 10 aimed at “the growing epidemic of painkiller and heroin abuse,” Karoun Demirjian reports for The Washington Post. “Drug abuse has been in the spotlight this political season, with presidential candidates recalling personal stories about relatives and friends who struggled with addiction and lawmakers from states dealing with the crisis highlighting their efforts to address the problem legislatively.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, helped lead the effort to pass the bill, along with fellow Republicans who “face tough re-election battles” and whose losses could cost the GOP its majority, Demirjian notes. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) “supported a Democratic-led, and ultimately unsuccessful, effort last week to add $600 million to the bill to support the treatment and prevention programs it would create.” So did Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), “who is also facing a formidable election challenge.”

McConnell opposed the funding amendment, saying there is enough money for the programs already and extra funding must be offset with budget cuts elsewhere. “Senators are now eyeing the appropriations process as the next place they intend to appeal for more drug abuse treatment and prevention funding,” Demirjian reports.

McConnell said in a press release, “At a time when more Kentuckians now die from drug overdoses than car crashes, it’s clear that more action is needed.”

Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control
Policy
, told Beth Warren of The Courier-Journal, “One of the nice things this bill does is sets some standards
around treatment.”

“The legislation would establish grant programs to help state and local governments improve education and treatment for drug abuse, encourage medical providers to reduce unnecessary prescriptions, commit resources to help veterans deal with addiction, and give local law enforcement and mental health officials tools to lower the death rate from overdoses,” the Post reports. “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.

The bill’s fate in the House remains unclear.”

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