The U.S. senators representing Missouri and Illinois are playing an active role in congressional efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., all voted for the popular Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act known as CARA.
CARA would establish an inter-agency task force on pain management and sets up a large number grants for treatment, increasing access to the opioid overdose antidote Naloxone and improving state prescription drug monitoring programs.
The measure is headed toward conference negotiations with the House of Representatives so that the Senate and the House can work out a version they both can live with.
McCaskill, Durbin and Kirk all voted to include funding in the bill. Blunt wants to keep funding decisions in a separate bill.
As chair of the subcommittee responsible for funding Health and Human Services, Blunt spearheaded an appropriations bill that would increase opioid funding by 93 percent over last year.
Blunt said that’s on top of an almost 300 percent increase in money last year to federal programs that are supposed to reduce drug addiction, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Drug Overdose Program and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Frankly my view is that’s about all the money that those agencies could spend in that kind of short-term increase,” Blunt said. “I’m hoping that we can look at this again next year and see how the agencies have done with the five and a half times increase that they’ve received in the last 24 months.”
The appropriations bill sets aside more than $260 million for opioids. Democrats earlier proposed spending $600 million.
Blunt and McCaskill worked together to petition the Senate to make local governments eligible for federal funding for prescription drug monitoring programs.
The Senate conference committee plans to make the addition a priority in negotiations after Blunt and McCaskill’s petition.
Right now the funding is directed to state programs, because every state but Missouri has a statewide monitoring program.
“My colleagues were shocked (to learn Missouri doesn’t have a drug monitoring program),” McCaskill said. “I want to help any county in Missouri that wants to give the back of their hand to Jefferson City for their incredible failure to protect Missourians once again.”
St. Louis and St. Louis County are in the process of setting up local prescription drug monitoring programs.
Blunt said he didn’t want to tell state legislators what to do, but “the fact that I’m trying to create whatever network the federal government can create is an obvious indication that I’m wondering why we’re the only state that doesn’t have a network.”
Meanwhile, Durbin of Illinois introduced legislation last week targeting drug manufacturing and prescribing practices.
He said his Addiction Prevention and Responsible Opioid Practices Act is intended to get “to the root cause” of opioid addiction. It would take a look at opioid manufacturing quotas and require federally-funded prescription drug monitoring programs to mandate a check of the database before prescribing opioids.
“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that the medical professionals accept their responsibility. They are the gatekeepers of these narcotics,” Durbin said. “I’m not looking for federal mandates. I’m just looking for responsible prescribing.”
Durbin acknowledged that his bill is a bit more controversial than CARA, which focuses more on task forces and treatment.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle. Whenever you take on the pharmaceutical industry it’s an uphill battle,” Durbin said.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.