US Senate Passes Major Opioid Reform Bill

Mar 10 2016

US Senate Passes Major Opioid Reform Bill

Today, the US Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which seeks to address the nation’s opioid problems.

The legislation promotes diversion programs that offer evidence-based treatment over incarceration for people accused of low-level drug offenses. CARA also seeks to expand access to buprenorphine and methadone, including to people facing charges or in jail (currently there’s a severe shortage of medication-assisted treatment for people who are incarcerated). The measure also intends to expand law enforcement access to the lifesaving drug naloxone. The bill received bipartisan support, and advocacy groups see it as a step in the right direction.

Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add an amendment that would funnel $600 million in emergency funding into the bill. And while the measure is largely symbolic until it’s funded, it does reflect a changing national attitude towards addiction, spurred by the opioid crisis.

A number of “naloxone saves”—instances when police and paramedics reversed overdoses—have gotten a great deal of media coverage, as ever more police departments equip their officers with the life-saving medicine. Opioid addiction has also become a major campaign issue, with many Republicans embracing more progressive stances towards addiction than they have in the past. CARA was backed by both Democratic and Republican Senators, notably Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, who co-sponsored the bill.