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U.S. House Passes $131 Million Bill To Combat Heroin, Opioid Addiction

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy

The House on Friday passed sweeping legislation -- endorsed by Democrats and Republicans -- that would flood states with money for opioid and heroin addiction treatment programs.

The White House earlier this week called for $1.2 billion to fund a bill that would include programs to train police officers to administer a drug overdose antidote, expand childcare for mothers in residential treatment, and allow physicians to prescribe more people a drug that treats addiction. The House version of the measure only included $131 million.

But Al Guida, a mental health and substance abuse lobbyist in Washington, said that number is still the biggest chunk of funding for substance abuse treatment in decades.

“That’s probably the largest single commitment to expanding addiction treatment in a generation,” he said.

The legislation heads to the Senate to be approved before Congress recesses at the end of next week.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration created a rule that would allow doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, an addiction antidote, to more people. Currently there is a cap at 100 patients per doctor -- the new rule would increase the cap to 275 people. Guida said drugs like these that curb cravings are apart of the medicalization of addiction treatment.

“Like we prescribe antidepressants for people with depression, this product also known as suboxone is like that because it helps you manage symptoms so you can live your life,” Guida said.

The bill would also allow pharmacists to fill a prescription for naloxone, a drug overdose antidote. U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican, said he worked on this provision so that people would have quicker access the antidote. Currently a doctor must prescribe the naloxone.

“Most addicts aren’t criminals," Guthrie said. "They’re criminals because they’re addicts. They get addicted and then they become criminals because they’re trying to feed their addiction."

If the measure is approved, money would not be appropriated until later in the fall. Without funds, many of the programs won’t be enacted. Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said it’s about time the federal government is pushing a substantial amount of money to states to help with addiction treatment.

“We’ve been struggling with opioid addiction for well over a decade and for some time now, it felt like the issue wasn’t getting the kind of response we needed,” Ingram said.

In 2015, 1,248 people died in Kentucky of drug overdose. That's a 7.6 percent increase from the year 2014.

Ingram said that Kentucky has been at the forefront of efforts to curb drug abuse with programs like the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER), which in 2012 mandated all doctors log prescriptions. Since then, there’s been a decrease of 8 percent in oxycodone prescriptions, and a 21 percent decrease in hydrocodone combination drugs.

Pat Fogarty is director of business development at the Healing Place, a six-to-nine-month addiction residential treatment center in Louisville and Campbellsville. Fogarty said funding for programs will make a difference, but he said opioids and heroin are quickly playing a supporting role in the lives of Kentucky addicts. He said 99.5 percent of his facility's patients who list heroin as their primary drug also list other drugs.

“Meth -- we regulated and kept people from buying Sudafed at local Walgreens," he said. "Fast forward all these years and we’re seeing super high-grade meth that is very inexpensive, coming from Mexico. We can’t just treat for one substance, we have to treat addiction overall.”

This story has been updated. An earlier version misstated the amount of funding authorized in the House bill.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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