Senate passes legislation to fight opioid epidemic

The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation intended to combat the opioid epidemic, in a rare moment of unity between Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 98-1 in the Senate and will now head to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to it as “landmark” legislation in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday, saying that the bill will bring “relief to American communities that have been decimated by the scourge of substance abuse and addiction.”

McConnell said that the package will “deliver critical resources to establish opioid-specific recovery centers,” and “will help law enforcement stop the flow of opioids across borders and increase safeguards against over-prescription.”

The House overwhelmingly passed its version of the bill last week by a vote of 393-8.

The wide-reaching legislation includes provisions aimed at promoting research to find new drugs for pain management that will not be addictive. It also expands access to treatment for substance use disorders for Medicaid patients.

The opioid crisis has a devastating impact across the United States. In 2016, more than 63,600 people died from an overdose in the United States — and 42,249 of those deaths involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health committee and lead sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement on Wednesday that the legislation “represents the work of 8 committees in the House and 5 committees in the Senate who have worked together to reach consensus about how to help address the opioid crisis which is affecting virtually every American community.”

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called the bill “important” on the Senate floor on Wednesday, but cautioned that it will not be a silver bullet for the problem.

“This is an important bill and it is an impactful step forward,” she said. “It is not a final step by any means. The opioid crisis is ongoing and our efforts to address it must be as well.”