The Senate has passed a sweeping package of bills meant to address the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic. The package, which is comprised of 70 separate bills, has a cost of $8.4 billion and affects multiple agencies across the government. The vote was 99 to 1 with only Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) dissenting.
The legislation was sponsored by Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee. In a statement, Alexander said the legislation represents the work of “over 70 senators, five committees, and countless staff who have worked together to help put an end to the opioid epidemic ravaging virtually every American community.”
President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. The crisis is affecting millions of Americans, killing close to 72,000 in the last year alone. In 2016, more than 63,600 people died from an overdose in the United States. The crisis shows no signs of abating.
Heroin overdose deaths are rising because the drug is being laced with fentanyl, an incredibly potent synthetic opioid. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 30,000 of the overdose-related deaths in 2017 were caused by synthetic opioids. The legislation passed by the Senate would increase the punishment for fentanyl distribution and trafficking. It also gives the US Postal Service more tools to prevent fentanyl from being shipped to the US from other countries.
The package of bills creates, expands and renews programs for people with substance abuse disorders and creates incentives for behavioral health providers to seek employment in areas of the country where there’s a shortage of trained professionals. The package also gives the Federal Drug and Administration more power over manufacturers’ packaging for prescription opioids.
The House passed a similar measure to the Senate package back in June. The two chambers will now need to negotiate the differences before sending the package to President Trump to be signed. Alexander commented in a statement that he is “already working to combine the Senate and House-passed bills into an even stronger law to fight the nation’s worst public health crisis, and there is a bipartisan sense of urgency to send the bill to the President quickly.”