President Barack Obama is set to sign off on a highly anticipated bill designed to combat the country's opioid abuse problem, despite criticism from the White House and some Democrats that the measure lacks proper funding to go along with it.
After months of wrangling, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday, 92-2, to pass the bill in a rare bipartisan effort. The House of Representatives also approved the same legislation in a 407-5 vote last week.
The measure aims to help communities develop treatment and overdose programs at a time when fewer than half the estimated 2.2 million Americans who need help for opioid abuse are receiving it, according to the US Centers for Human and Health Services. But Democrats complained that it does not provide enough resources to effectively address the drug problem.
"This bill is like a Hollywood movie set — something that appears real on the surface but has no substance and no life behind its facade," said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
The White House said in a statement the bill "falls far short" of the necessary funding, but Obama would still sign it "because some action is better than none." The statement also blamed Congressional Republicans for blocking the necessary funds to get the bill off the ground.
"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 House statement said. "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."
But some Republicans felt passage of a bill marked a turning point in the war against opiates.
'This bill is like a Hollywood movie set — something that appears real on the surface but has no substance and no life behind its facade.'
Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a leading proponent of the legislation, said that it's "the first time that we've treated addiction like the disease that it is, which will help put an end to the stigma that has surrounded addiction for too long."
Schumer, however, wasn't buying Republican claims that funding for the bill would actually be set aside in the coming months.
"Forgive me for being skeptical that they will actually follow through on that," he said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "What a sham."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the legislation "has no real funding to solve the real problem."
US deaths from drug overdoses hit a record high in 2014, propelled by abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 28,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2014. At least half, HHS said, of those deaths involved a prescription opioid.
Among the common prescription drugs are oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl that are used for pain treatment.
Heroin-related deaths have also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010. In 2014, more than 10,500 people died from heroin, the agency said.
The bill authorizes $181 million a year for new programs it creates.
Democrats said that with disagreements in Congress over next year's funding for HHS, it was uncertain whether the money contained in the bipartisan bill actually would be delivered.
They called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to back up this legislation with $600 million in immediate emergency funds. Obama has requested $920 million for opioid treatment programs over two years.
The bill, if enacted into law, also would provide new training for emergency personnel in administering drugs to reverse opioid overdoses and help communities purchase those drugs.
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