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Congress passes first major U.S. bill against opiate addiction; Obama expected to sign

Senate Democrats, who'd previously opposed the bill, saying it lacks funding, also signed off on the bill.

By Doug G. Ware
Congress passes first major U.S. bill against opiate addiction; Obama expected to sign
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the proposed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which is the first major piece of federal legislation aimed at fighting addiction to opiate drugs -- both legal and illegal. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave near unanimous approval to a priority piece of bipartisan legislation that seeks to fight what's viewed as an escalating national health crisis -- addiction to legal and illicit opiates.

With a vote of 92-2, the Senate sent the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to President Barack Obama's desk. It is the first major federal bill with the goal of fighting opioid abuse in the United States.

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Negotiations over the bill had persisted in Congress for nearly a full year, which saw some Democrats shun the proposal because they said it was a "half measure" to fight narcotic addiction. To make it a full measure, they asked for $900 million in federal funding to sufficiently combat the crisis.

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Republicans, though, did not give in to the request for more money -- and all Democrats except two signed off on the bill Wednesday without it.

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The amount of federal funding committed under the measure is $181 million.

"The opioid legislation has no real funding to solve the real problem," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday.

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"At a time when drug overdoses claim 129 American lives every day, it's painfully clear that we need to do more now," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., replied.

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Twenty Democrats sent a letter to McConnell on Wednesday asking for a Senate vote in the near future to decide whether to approve more funding for CARA.

The measure sets up a federal grant program, available to the states, aimed at improving education and treatment resources for heroin and painkiller abuse. It also seeks to outfit more first responder emergency medical personnel with anti-overdose drugs.

"This is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and co- author of the legislation, said Wednesday. "This is also the first time that we have treated addiction like the disease that it is."

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Portman also said now that dedicated money is in the pipeline, more money will be requested for the measure in the coming years.

The House passed the bill last week, also near unanimously, by a vote of 407-5. The White House says Obama will sign it, even though he also wants more funding for the health care fight.

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"The Administration has consistently said that turning the tide of the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic requires real resources to help those Americans seeking treatment get the care that they need," the White said in a statement Wednesday."Congressional Republicans have not done their jobs until they provide the funding for treatment that communities need to combat this epidemic. The President and Administration officials will continue to press Republicans to respond to this crisis."

Earlier this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill to provide $261 million for opioid treatments and prevention -- a 93 percent increase over the amount Congress approved for fiscal 2016.

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