As Death Toll from Fentanyl-laced Heroin Continues to Rise, Senator Richard Durbin Introduces Federal Legislation to Save Lives

Press Release June 21, 2006
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced groundbreaking legislation today that would establish a federal grant program to help states prevent overdose deaths from legal and illegal drugs. The legislation comes in the wake of more than 100 deaths in recent months from fentanyl-laced heroin around the country.

“Many policymakers have been sitting on their hands while our country’s sons and daughters die from drug overdoses, but Sen. Durbin has taken decisive action to save lives,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress has the responsibility to pass legislation that will empower local communities to reduce overdose deaths and save thousands of lives.”

Drug policy experts report that recent fentanyl-related deaths, as well as many of the thousands of overdose-related deaths that occur every year, are completely preventable. Ample scientific evidence indicates that the overdose death rate could be cut substantially with modest public health measures and changes in public policy, such as:

These and other policies have shown success in cities across the country, including Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. In particular, New Mexico is seen as a national model on how a state can employ public health measures to consistently reduce drug overdoses and save lives. In a year, hundreds of lives were saved through New Mexico’s overdose prevention measures.

Unfortunately, the federal government dedicates no funding at all to overdose prevention, and few states have implemented comprehensive statewide programs to respond to the growing problems. Fiscal restraints and legal barriers, such as laws that limit the use of overdose reversal agents, are hampering efforts to save lives in cities across the country.

Durbin’s bill, known as the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, is a groundbreaking step forward in overdose prevention effort. The legislation would, for the first time, make federal money available for programs that provide overdose prevention, treatment, and response training. It would also require the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing overdose deaths, including identifying state and federal barriers to implementing effective overdose prevention strategies.

“It is a tragedy that so many families have lost loved ones to overdose deaths. The good news is that there are concrete ways to reduce drug-related deaths,” said Piper. “It is time for our elected officials to show that they value life and are committed to saving lives.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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