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Bill to fight heroin, Rx drug abuse passes U.S. Senate

Sen. John McCain

Sen. John McCain

PRESCOTT – A bipartisan bill designed to award federal grants to help fight prescription drug abuse and heroin use passed the U.S. Senate Thursday, March 10, on a 94-1 vote and is headed for the House of Representatives.

The “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015” was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Portman, along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, and would give money to state and local programs that work to eliminate opioid addiction.

“According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (commonly known as NIDA), the number of prescriptions for opioids increased from approximately 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, and the United States is the biggest consumer of opioids globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone and 81 percent for oxycodone,” the bill states.

Sen. John McCain said, “I’m proud that the Senate today passed bipartisan legislation to combat the growing opioid epidemic that is devastating communities across the country. The legislation that passed today provides our communities with the resources they need to prevent drug use, help law enforcement stop the spread of dangerous drugs on the street, combat overdoses, and support victims by increasing access to treatment.”

The bill’s one-sided approval came after Republicans defeated a Democratic effort last week to add $600 million to the legislation.

The measure provides no new money for its grants. Republicans argued previously approved money could be used, but Democrats contested that and said the measure would be badly weakened without additional funds.

In a letter this month expressing support for the bill’s grants, White House officials said that unless Congress provides extra money, the bill “would do little to address the epidemic” of drug abuse. The letter did not threaten a veto.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the bill would establish programs worth $725 million through 2021.

The bill includes money to train emergency workers to treat drug abusers, create treatment programs that would be alternatives to imprisonment and finance recovery programs at schools and nonprofit groups. It would also provide some money for local law enforcement efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Follow Scott Orr on Twitter @AZNewsguy. Call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2038 or 928-642-7705.