WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a bill to combat the nation’s growing problem with opioid and heroin abuse by focusing
efforts on prevention, treatment and recovery programs proven effective in local communities.
Passed by a vote of 94 to 1, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act now goes to the U.S. House.
"We know that the abuse of heroin and prescription drugs is tearing apart families and devastating our communities," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, urging the House to follow the Senate’s lead and act quickly.
"This bill will help more Americans put their lives back together and achieve their God-given potential."
During the debate, senators took turns coming to the floor to share statistics about the impact of heroin and opioid abuse on their own states.
More than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014, leading some to describe the problem as an epidemic.
Portman singled out the bill’s provisions that would expand prevention and educational efforts, make naloxone, the overdose reversal drug credited with saving thousands of lives, more widely available to first responders, provide more resources to treat those already incarcerated and suffering from addiction disorders, launch evidence-based treatment and intervention programs, increase the number of disposal sites for unwanted prescription drugs and strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help at-risk individuals receive services.
Clearly the bill drew strong support from both parties and provided a rare distraction from the partisan-driven differences on filling a current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, but the anti-drug measure also generated a sharp disagreement over funding.
Democrats led an unsuccessful effort to authorize $600 million in emergency funding in the bill.
Republican leaders said such funding was not necessary and pointed to $400 million already provided for such efforts in a previously approved bill.
In the end, the lone vote against final passage of the bill came from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
"I’m not convinced fighting addiction — as opposed to stopping drug traffickers — is best addressed at the federal level," Sasse said in a press statement.
Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and James Lankford, R-Okla., supported the bill.
Move against jet sale rejected
The Senate killed an effort by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
In pushing his proposal to halt the sale, Paul described the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan as troubled and questioned Pakistan’s role as an ally in the fight against terrorism.
"While we give them billions of dollars in aid, we are simultaneously aware of their intelligence and military apparatus assisting the Afghan Taliban," he said.
"In addition to Pakistan’s duplicitous nature, it also has a deplorable human rights record."
Paul’s move, even though easily defeated, received support from both sides of the aisle, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed opposition
to using taxpayer funds to support the sale even as he was arguing against Paul’s measure.
"Prohibiting a taxpayer subsidy sends a much-needed message to Pakistan that it needs to change its behavior, but preventing the purchase of U.S. aircraft would do more harm than good by paving the way for countries like Russia and China to sell to Pakistan while also inhibiting greater cooperation on counterterrorism."
In the end, the vote to table Paul’s effort was 71 to 24.
Inhofe and Lankford supported the tabling motion.
The House was not in session last week.