Durbin, Reed Applaud New Initiative To Strike Back At Growing Heroin Epidemic

Senators have led the call for a national, comprehensive plan to reduce overdose deaths with increased resources for life-saving drugs and follow up care

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Jack Reed (D-IL) welcomed today’s announcement of a new targeted initiative through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the heroin epidemic. In December, Durbin and Reed led a group of twenty-one Senators in calling on HHS to prioritize programs that reduce heroin and other opioid overdose deaths in its national strategy to curb prescription drug abuse. Both Senators have been active in highlighting the need for expanded access to overdose education, naloxone distribution, and access to substance abuse treatment services and other follow-up care.

“Naloxone is sometimes called the “Lazarus drug” because of its ability to reverse the deadly effects of a heroin overdose. And yet, law enforcement officers in only a few Illinois counties carry it,” Durbin said. “With heroin and opioid use on the rise, why wouldn’t we do everything we could to give first-responders access to this life-saving drug? I am glad to see the Department of Health and Human Services answering that call today by expanding the use of naloxone and providing additional training and resources to the first-responders who are on the frontline of this crisis.”

“Heroin and opioid abuse is a serious public health and safety problem and we need a comprehensive, coordinated response to this epidemic.  I commend the Obama Administration for boosting prevention efforts and expanding access to treatment options for those who need it.  Research shows naloxone works.  It’s a lifesaver that helps prevent overdose deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin.  We need to help states purchase overdose-prevention toolkits and train first responders and individuals who work with addicts to effectively use them so we can save lives.  This is a devastating problem and there is so much more to be done.  We need to bring together law enforcement, medical personnel, addiction treatment specialists, social service providers, pharmacies, and families to help save lives and get at the root of this problem,” said Reed, who introduced the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand access to naloxone, as well as drug overdose prevention programs that have been proven to save lives.


The initiative announced today by HHS focuses on three priority areas:


  1. Increasing use of naloxone, as well as continuing to support the development and distribution of the life-saving drug, to help reduce the number of deaths associated with prescription opioid and heroin overdose.
  2. Providing training and educational resources, including updated prescriber guidelines, to assist health professionals in making informed prescribing decisions and address the over-prescribing of opioids.
  3. Expanding the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a comprehensive way to address the needs of individuals that combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.


Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, if it is administered in a timely way. Naloxone has no side effects or potential for abuse, and is widely recognized as an important tool to help prevent drug overdose deaths. However, many communities struggle to get naloxone to those on the front lines who need it most.  Illinois, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other states have been leaders in implementing programs that distribute naloxone and other similarly effective drugs to law enforcement, first responders, providers, nonprofit organizations, family, and friends.


Last year, Reed and Durbin were joined by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ed Markey (D-MA) in introducing the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand access to naloxone, as well as drug overdose prevention programs that have been proven to save lives. The Overdose Prevention Act aims to decrease the rate of drug overdose deaths by improving access to naloxone, supporting overdose prevention programs, enhancing surveillance of overdose occurrences, and establishing a coordinated federal plan of action to address the epidemic.


Earlier this month, Durbin joined U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in introducing bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the National All-Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) program, which provides grants to states to maintain, improve, and expand their prescription drug monitoring programs. Prescription narcotic drugs are the number one cause of overdoses in the United States with more than 22,000 reported deaths due to prescription drug related overdoses in 2012. The program was originally signed into law in 2005. In Illinois, the number of drug overdose deaths, the majority of which are from prescription drugs, increased by nearly 50% between 1999 and 2010.