Federal Lawmakers Introducing Overdose Prevention Bill to Combat Heroin and Opioid Overdose Crisis

Press Release June 22, 2015
Media Contact

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<p>Tony Newman 646-335-5384<br />
Grant Smith 202-669-6573</p>

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) are introducing identical legislation to support the expansion of overdose prevention services. Both bills support community-based efforts to prevent fatal drug overdoses from heroin, opioid pain medications and other drugs. Both bills would expand community-based overdose prevention programs that provide resources to those likely to witness an overdose and be in a position to help, such as first responders and family members. Resources include trainings on how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer naloxone and other first aid. Both bills would provide federal funding for the purchase and distribution of naloxone by community and public health stakeholders to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose.  A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released last week credits overdose prevention programs with training more than 150,000 potential bystanders who successfully reversed more than 26,000 overdoses using naloxone and other rescue techniques.

“Since I first introduced this bill in 2009, nearly 140,000 Americans have died from opioid related deaths, including more than 4,000 from my home state of Maryland,” said Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-MD). “While I remain encouraged by the Obama Administration’s priority in expanding naloxone access across our nation, it is Congress’s role to appropriate funding. I thank Sen. Reed for leading this effort on the Senate side, showing lawmakers that we have a responsibility to fund programs that make a real difference in treating and preventing overdose, and ultimately saving lives. And while I understand that there is much work to be done in order to address substance abuse before it gets to the point of overdose, each year hundreds of Maryland families and tens of thousands of American families need immediate assistance.”

“We can’t let more young people fall victim to heroin and opioid abuse.  This is a serious public health and safety problem in Rhode Island and every type of community across the country.  Opioid dependence and overdose is a growing problem that cuts across social and economic boundaries and we need to take action or it will continue to get worse,” warned Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).  “The Overdose Prevention Act will establish a comprehensive national response to this epidemic.  It emphasizes collaboration between state and federal officials and employs best practices from the medical community.  And it invests in community programs and treatments that have proven effective in combating this startling national trend.  This is an emergency and it requires a coordinated and comprehensive national response.  The Overdose Prevention Act brings together federal authorities, first responders, medical personnel, addiction treatment specialists, social service providers, and families to help save lives and get at the root of this problem.”

“As the recent surge in heroin overdose deaths across the country illustrates, we cannot rely on punitive measures that crack down on doctors and patients to reduce misuse and overdose. Lawmakers must invest in making overdose prevention and treatment resources available to people who need them,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Increasing the use of lifesaving naloxone kits and improving public awareness of overdose risks could spare countless families across the country from enduring the heart-wrenching loss of a loved one to an overdose.”

Overdose deaths across the country continue to increase year after year, claiming nearly 44,000 lives in 2013 alone. More than 80 percent of those deaths were due to unintentional drug overdoses, which more than tripled between 1999 and 2013. Opioid medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were involved in nearly 46 percent of all unintentional drug poisoning deaths in 2013, while heroin was involved in 23 percent of deaths. The increase in heroin-involvement is now a consistent trend, with unintentional drug poisoning deaths involving heroin nearly tripling between 2010 and 2013.

Rural and suburban regions are unaccustomed to dealing with heroin overdoses but are increasingly impacted. From 2000 through 2013, the age-adjusted rate for drug poisoning deaths involving heroin has increased nearly 11-fold in the Midwest region and more than 3-fold in the South region. People aged 25 to 64 are now more likely to die as a result of a drug overdose than from a motor vehicle accident. The CDC estimates that more than 100 fatal overdoses occur in the U.S. every day.

A primary goal of this legislation in decreasing drug overdose deaths is expanding the awareness and use of naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that quickly reverses an overdose from heroin and opioid pain medications, and provides additional time to obtain necessary medical assistance during an overdose. Naloxone has no pharmacological effect if administered to a person who has not taken opioids and has no potential for abuse. The use of naloxone as an overdose reversal medication has recently been profiled in the New York Times, TIME and other media outlets.

In just the past few years, 34 states have acted to increase naloxone prescription and use.  Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a Department of Justice memo urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of an opiate overdose with naloxone. The Office of National Drug Control Policy also supports equipping first responders to help reverse overdoses. Police officers on patrol in Quincy, Massachusetts, have conducted 300 overdose rescues with naloxone since 2011, reporting a 95-percent success rate with overdose rescue attempts. In Suffolk County, New York, police officers saved more than 563 lives with naloxone in 2013 alone.

Despite recognition among federal lawmakers and health authorities that overdose prevention programs are highly effective at saving lives at low-cost to taxpayers, few federal dollars are dedicated to supporting these critical programs. A study funded by the CDC found that expanding access to naloxone and overdose prevention activities is effective at reducing deaths from opioid overdoses.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced this legislation today with Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  Representative Edwards introduced this legislation today with 25 original cosponsors. This legislation has received support from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Fraternal Order of Police, Maryland Council of Emergency Nurses Association, National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, Inc., Drug Policy Alliance, Harm Reduction Coalition and Trust for America’s Health.

DPA Fact Sheet: Opioid Overdose: Addressing a National Crisis of Preventable Deaths

DPA Fact Sheet: What is Naloxone?

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

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