In a society permeated by cutthroat politics, the U.S. Senate recently created a bipartisan legislative package that is evidence of the seriousness of the opioid drug epidemic. Republicans and Democrats alike agreed on the necessity of the legislation and voted it through in September. The 653-page bill contains a mix of law enforcement and public health measures that together will address the problem that is the leading cause of injury deaths in Ohio.

“While there is more work to be done, this bipartisan legislation takes an important step forward and will save lives,” a group of Republican and Democratic committee leaders said about the bill in a statement.

How it Works

If passed, the legislation would combat the opioid crisis from several different fronts:

  • It would allow for better electronic tracking of packages shipped into the country through the U.S. Postal Service, testing suspicious packages for drugs. Illegal fentanyl and fentanyl analogs commonly enter the country through the regular mail from China.
  • The bill would reinstate several federal anti-drug programs, including those under the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Courts, Drug-Free Community prevention grants, and High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grants.
  • The bill would make it easier for Medicaid recipients to enroll in inpatient care for substance abuse. It would also allow federal Medicaid dollars to be spent on residential addiction treatment at centers with more than 16 beds.
  • The bill would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine to aid in opiate withdrawal, allowing for better access to this medication.
  • The new legislation would allow Medicaid to pay for residential pediatric recovery services provided to babies born addicted to opioids under the “Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act.” It would also allow babies over one year of age to be treated in residential pediatric recovery when necessary. “Too many victims of this epidemic are the infants born to mothers who struggle with addiction,” Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement. “With the right care, newborns born with neonatal abstinence syndrome have every shot of growing up healthy. This is an important step forward in getting moms and babies in Ohio care that best fits their needs.”
  • Finally, the bill would provide funds for researching and developing alternatives to addictive painkillers.

Drug Abuse Statistics

Drug abuse, particularly prescription painkiller, heroin, and fentanyl abuse, has skyrocketed in the past 15 years, leading to addiction and death by overdose. The state of Ohio has seen more than its share of overdose deaths that were linked to opioids like fentanyl.

According to the Ohio Department of Health:

  • Two-thirds of overdoses in Ohio are caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and there was an 850 percent nationwide increase in fentanyl overdose deaths between 2013 and 2017.
  • The United States saw 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, including nearly 50,000 involving opioids.
  • In Ohio, cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome increased six-fold between 2004-2011, from 14 cases per 10,000 live births in 2004 to 88 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011.
  • In 2015, an average of 84 infants was being treated for drug withdrawal by Ohio hospitals every day.

“The opioid crisis has continued to tighten its grip around communities across our country, and the emergence of fentanyl has presented a new challenge in turning the tide of this epidemic,” Ohio Senator Portman said in an interview. “Just as we were making progress this more deadly, less expensive scourge has come into our families, our communities, and our states. That’s why we need to take action.”

Working Together for the Common Good

Legislators from both sides of the aisle find themselves approving of this new bill, mainly because the opioid epidemic has caused such devastation in our country.

“Ohio is at the heart of this crisis, and I have worked with my colleagues in both parties and with Senator Portman to pass laws to give Ohio more resources to deal with this crisis. It is important Congress passes this bipartisan legislation to make certain our states and communities are able to fight this epidemic,” said a statement from Rep. Jim Renacci.

The bill still has to be passed into law by both the Senate and House, but with bipartisan support throughout its development, lawmakers are optimistic it will be approved.