Washington, D.C. – Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the Overdose Prevention Act today with Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The legislation supports community-based efforts to prevent fatal drug overdoses from opioid pain medications, heroin and other drugs. The Overdose Prevention Act is being introduced as a Senate companion to the Stop Overdose Stat (S.O.S.) Act (H.R. 4169), which was authored earlier this year by Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-MD).
"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 communities across the country. A lot of cities and towns don't want to admit it, but this 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. "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 programs and treatments that have been proven effective to combat this startling national trend. This is an emergency and it requires a coordinated and comprehensive response. The Overdose Prevention Act brings together first responders, medical personnel, addiction treatment specialists, social service providers, and families to help save lives and get at the root of this problem," said Senator Reed.
"Earlier this year, I reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat (S.O.S) Act to help support community-based efforts and increase the availability of naloxone to help prevent fatal drug overdoses. Nationwide, we are seeing an increase in the overdose epidemic, and the traumatic toll it is taking on families, friends, and local communities. I thank Sen. Jack Reed (RI-D) for his introduction of the Overdose Prevention Act in the Senate, making this a bicameral effort. With this legislation, we have an opportunity to make a real difference in treating and preventing overdose, and ultimately saving lives. I hope that we can act on this legislation immediately," said Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-MD).
"Overdose prevention programs help reduce overdose deaths by increasing the use of lifesaving naloxone kits and improving public awareness of overdose risks," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should make overdose prevention a priority. Countless families across the country could be spared from enduring the heart-wrenching loss of a loved one to an overdose."
Since 2000, accidental overdoses deaths have nearly tripled nationwide, claiming more than 33,000 lives in 2011 (the latest year data is available). Newly released federal health data found that unintentional overdose deaths increased by more than 9 percent between 2010 and 2011. In this same timeframe, the Washington Post recently reported that overdoses from heroin jumped more than 45 percent. Fatal overdoses from prescribed opioid pain medications such as oxycodone account for more than 55 percent of all overdose deaths. People aged 25 to 64 are now more likely to die as a result of a drug overdose than from injuries sustained in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The CDC estimates that more than 100 fatal overdoses occur in the U.S. every day.
The Overdose Prevention Act supports the expansion of community-based overdose prevention programs that provide resources to people such as first responders and family members who are likely to witness an overdose and be in a position to help. Program-based resources include trainings on how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer naloxone and other first aid. The Overdose Prevention Act also provides federal funding for the purchase and distribution of naloxone by community and government stakeholders to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose. In addition, the Overdose Prevention Act implements measures that would enhance public awareness of overdose risk and enhances overdose surveillance and federal research capabilities.
Naloxone is a medication that quickly reverses an overdose from heroin and opioid pain medications. The use of naloxone as an overdose reversal medication has recently been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN and other media outlets. Today, 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.
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 and released last year found that expanding access to naloxone and overdose prevention activities are effective at reducing deaths from opioid overdoses. A CDC report issued in 2012 credits overdose prevention programs with saving more than 10,000 lives since 1996.
The Overdose Prevention Act has received support from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Drug Policy Alliance, Harm Reduction Coalition, Trust for America's Health and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.