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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal talking about the bill at the East Hartford Police Department (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Senate this week approved a sweeping bipartisan package of legislation to address the nation’s opioid epidemic that includes additional resources for treatment programs while also focusing on preventing illicit drugs from entering the country.

“The communities need our help. We promised action, and we are now delivering, in part, on this issue,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said on the Senate floor. “The calls for action tonight are answered in this beginning step with money that will go to treatment, prevention, and law enforcement.”

Senator Chris Murphy praised the bill for including dozens of new policies and grant programs to combat the crisis, including support for substance-exposed babies, funding for research into non-addictive painkillers, and expanding programs to train first responders to carry and use Narcan to treat overdoses.

The Senate and House will now need to negotiate a final bill for an up-or-down vote, which should be possible given the overwhelming support for action in both chambers. Congress already appropriated funds to fight the prescription painkiller epidemic that claimed 72,000 lives through overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Congressional leaders hope to have a final bill ready for approval before the midterm elections in November.

Murphy said the Senate bill includes his “Recovery COACH Act,” legislation based on a state program that uses recovery coaches to help people overcome addictions. The bill provides states with grants to ensure that individuals with substance use disorder have access to specially-trained coaches who can serve as a mentor, provide insight and encouragement, support families, and help patients navigate treatment options.

“This crisis is tearing families apart. Republicans in Congress are not taking this crisis seriously enough, but the Opioid Crisis Response Act is a small step forward and I was happy to play a role in its passage,” Murphy said of the overall bill.

Blumenthal pointed to several pieces of the legislation that he supported this session as stand-alone bills, including ones that would: provide grants to states to help pharmacy-based “take-back” programs for disposing of unused prescription medications; increase transparency in opioid prescribing by requiring drug companies to disclose payments made to nurse practitioners and physician assistants; and require annual wellness visits for seniors to include screening for substance use disorder and the risk of addiction.

Meanwhile, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams called this week for a cultural shift in the way Americans talk about the opioid crisis and released a “digital postcard” highlighting steps people can take to raise awareness, prevent opioid misuse and reduce overdose deaths.

“Addiction is a brain disease that touches families across America — even my own,” said “We need to work together to put an end to stigma.”

Overdose deaths in 2017 increased by almost 10 percent – claiming the lives of more than 70,000 Americans. Nearly 48,000 of those were opioid overdose deaths, with the sharpest increase occurring among deaths related to illicitly made fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are signs that efforts to stem the opioid crisis are having success, with the use of medication-assisted treatment growing significantly and the number of Americans initiating heroin use dropping significantly from 2016 to 2017.

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir, M.D., who also serves as the HHS Senior Advisor for Opioid Policy, added that recently released data shows significantly more people received treatment for their substance use disorder in 2017 than in 2016.

“This was especially true for those with heroin-related opioid use disorders,” he said.

The opioid crisis has touched every community in America but only 53 percent of the public considers opioid addiction a major concern, according to recent surveys. As a result, Adams is calling on all individuals to talk about opioid misuse; only take opioid medications as prescribed and store them in a secure place; consider alternative treatments to manage pain; understand opioid misuse is a chronic illness that needs proper treatment; and learn how to use naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.

Connecticut Health Centers Get $4.8 Million in Fed Grants for Opioid Epidemic

Sixteen community health centers in Connecticut will share $4.8 million in federal grants aimed at expanding access to integrated services for residents dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.

The Health Resources and Services Administration announced this week that it is awarding $352 million in grants to 1,232 community health centers across the nation as part of a broader program to combat the opioid epidemic. The Department of Health and Human Services awarded over $1 billion in opioid-specific grants supporting HHS’s “Five-Point Opioid Strategy.” https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/hhs-response/index.html

“Addressing the opioid crisis with all the resources possible and the best science we have is a top priority for President Trump and for everyone at HHS,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The more than $1 billion in additional funding that we provided this week will build on progress we have seen in tackling this epidemic through empowering communities and families on the frontlines.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration awarded more than $930 million in grants distributed to states by a formula to support a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic and expand access to treatment and recovery support services — specifically by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. Connecticut’s share of the grant is $11.1 million.

The Health Resources and Services Administration provided grants to the following Connecticut community health centers:

Optimus Health Care in Bridgeport $285,000

Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport $180,518

Connecticut Institute for Communities in Danbury $285,000

First Choice Health Centers in East Hartford $285,000

Family Centers in Greenwich $285,000

Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford $285,000

Community Health Services in Hartford $207,150

Community Health Center in Middletown $510,500

Cornell Scott-Hill Health in New Haven $488,750

Fair Haven Community Health Clinic in New Haven $327,750

Norwalk Community Health Center $110,000

United Community Services in Norwich $289,250

Wheeler Clinic in Plainville $368,250

Community Health and Wellness Center of Greater Torrington $287,500

Staywell Health Care in Waterbury $320,750

Generations Family Health Center in Willimantic $285,000