Politics have become increasingly heated, but both parties agree on at least one point: the opioid epidemic has been a looming public health concern that needs to be addressed immediately. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that over 63,600 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses in 2016, and opioids factored into 42,249 of these lethal overdoses. The following year, the CDC found that opioids were involved in over 49,000 of the 72,000 fatal drug overdoses.
In light of these growing numbers, the U.S. Senate voted 99-1 in favor of a new package that intends to prevent the spread of the opioid epidemic and help individuals already struggling with drug addiction. Five Senate committees and over 70 lawmakers collaborated to create the proposed legislation. Seventy bills make up the package, including the Opioid Crisis Response Act and the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. The Opioid Crisis Response Act includes measures that would expand the accessibility of addiction treatment services.
Another provision of the Senate bill focuses on blocking the illegal influx of prescription drugs from foreign nations like China. Of particular concern is the spread of fentanyl, a potent and hazardous synthetic opioid that many users obtain illegally from overseas using the U.S. Postal Service. The STOP Act would require the USPS to follow the example of commercial mail carriers like UPS and FedEx, which must collect electronic information from packages. In the past, the Postal Service would not have to collect data for certain international packages, but the STOP Act would require it to track details such as the origin, destination, and contents of each package.
The package lays out other plans that aim to combat the root of the opioid crisis. It sets aside funding for research about opioid addiction as well as pain management solutions that do not cause users to depend on prescription painkillers. The Senate likewise hopes to provide recovery services to infants suffering from opioid withdrawal and make treatment programs more widely available to the general public. These new measures would also place more pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to package prescription painkillers with more care and limit dosages to reduce the likelihood that users will become addicted.
After passing a spending bill in March, the government plans to direct 4.7 billion dollars towards addressing the opioid epidemic. Because the crisis has already impacted so many Americans and their families, senators expect that the proposals outlined in the bill will be treated with urgency and will officially become law by late 2018.