Leahy Joins Legislation To Further Combat Opioid Epidemic

Legislation Would Improve Access To Prevention Programs And Overdose Medication

WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, June 26, 2015) – As opioid abuse continues its scourge across New England and other parts of the nation, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has joined in introducing legislation to combat the epidemic on its front lines.  The Overdose Prevention Act of 2015 expands access to naloxone -- a drug that counters the effects of an opioid overdose -- and overdose prevention programs, while encouraging law enforcement and public health officials to improve tabulation and analysis of overdose incidents.

Leahy said:  “Opioid abuse is tearing destructive paths through communities, ravaging individuals, families and neighborhoods.  This is a problem that affects all of us, and a problem that will take all of us to face and remedy.  Congress must do everything it can to assure that we have the tools we need to address this public health crisis.  Our bill would help us push back against this devastating national trend.”

The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award funding through cooperative agreements to eligible entities, such as public health agencies or community-based organizations with expertise in preventing overdose deaths.  As a condition of participation, an organization would use the grant to purchase and distribute naloxone.  Another condition is performing overdose prevention activities, such as educating prescribers and pharmacists or training first responders and others on how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer naloxone and other first aid.

As rates of overdose deaths continue to spike, public health agencies, law enforcement agencies and others are struggling to keep up without accurate and timely information about the epidemic.  That is why the Overdose Prevention Act also would require HHS to take steps to improve surveillance and research of drug overdose deaths.

Leahy is an original cosponsor of the bill, which was introduced this week by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).  Identical legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives.  Leahy also cosponsored the legislation in the previous Congress.    

Leahy, the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee and the most senior member of the Appropriations Committee, has long led on and supported efforts to combat drug addiction and to get treatment to people caught in the opioid spiral.  Last year as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he held a committee field hearing in Rutland, Vt., to bring community leaders together to discuss community solutions to break the cycle of heroin and opioid addiction.  Leahy delivered a report to the Senate on the hearing’s testimony.  

Leahy also led the initiative to create the Anti-Heroin Task Force, run by the Justice Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Office, in an appropriations bill in 2014.  That initiative will provide $7 million in competitive grants to law enforcement agencies in states like Vermont with higher per capita levels of primary treatment admissions for both heroin and other opioids.

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