The legislation includes provisions involving research for new non-addictive painkillers; more medication-assisted treatment, behavioral and mental health providers; programs for infants born with opioid addiction and mothers with opioid use disorders; new opioid recovery centers; and stopping drugs at the border.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the sponsor of the legislation, said there is a “bipartisan sense of urgency to send the bill to the president quickly.”
“We are already working to combine the Senate- and House-passed bills into an even stronger bill to fight our nation’s worst public health crisis,” the Republican senator said in a Monday statement, adding that Congress was able to allocate $4.7 billion for efforts to fight the opioid crisis through the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill in March.
The Fiscal Year 2019 Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill, which was passed Tuesday, also included $3.8 billion to help combat the opioid crisis.
“This would mean Congress has approved roughly $8.5 billion for the opioids crisis within a few months,” the senator said ahead of its passage.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, thanked Alexander and his colleagues in the Senate Health Committee for pushing Monday’s legislation and other initiatives to fight the crisis. Roe said he’s confident legislators can “work out any differences between the (House and Senate) bills because this is too pressing an issue not to.
"The opioid epidemic cannot take any more lives. More individuals in Tennessee died last year from opioid overdoses than car wrecks, and nationally, this epidemic took more lives last year than we did in the entire Vietnam War," Roe wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday. "Both the House and Senate have passed excellent bills to improve treatments, expand research and fight opioid addiction.”
The Response Act passed with rare, bipartisan support. Ninety-nine voted in favor of the legislation.
But First Congressional District Democratic Party candidate Marty Olsen, a physician, said he would also like to see more legislation targeting “predatory prescribing practices.” He said the recent legislation is only one step in the right direction.
“This is a good start, but that is what it is — a start,” he said. “I am pleased that the Senate came together for bipartisan action; I’d like to see the same in the House. With such overwhelming support, future steps ought to include provisions for therapy for patients who want to fight their addiction but lack the resources.
“I treat these individuals every day, but that represents a fraction of the East Tennesseans afflicted and often struggling alone. People are dying, and we need to do more than nibble around the edges of this large and complex issue.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., weighed in on Monday’s passage of the act, citing his support for one major component of the act, the STOP Act, a provision that aims to stop the flow of illegal drugs at the border with Mexico, including fentanyl, which resulted in many of last year’s 30,000 synthetic opioid-related deaths in the U.S.
“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic is destroying lives and tearing apart families,” Corker said in an emailed statement. “By taking a multifaceted approach that includes reducing the number of unnecessary opioid prescriptions, improving detection and seizure of illegal drugs, accelerating research and innovation of non-addictive pain medicines and sharing valuable data between states, we can responsibly help combat this increasingly devastating problem.”
Recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health showed 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2017, the highest one-year number recorded since reporting began.