Durbin, Reed Take Action To Help Address Drug Overdose Epidemic

Senators Introduce Overdose Prevention Act to expand access to overdose antidote and improve prevention programs and first responder training

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Seeking to combat the growing national drug overdose epidemic, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Jack Reed (D-RI) today introduced the Overdose Prevention Act. This legislation would expand access to naloxone, as well as drug overdose prevention programs that have been proven to save lives.  The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ed Markey (D-MA).


Drug overdose death rates in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  And USA Today reports that heroin and related opioid pain pills have killed more than 125,000 in the U.S. in the past decade.  Over half of the drug overdoses reported in 2011 were attributable to opioids, including prescription pain relievers and heroin, and nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths nationally are now caused by drugs.


In Illinois, the number of drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 50% between 1999 and 2010.  The increase in prescription drug abuse is also leading many to use heroin. In Illinois, heroin addiction is a growing problem and its impact is felt from the suburbs of Chicago to those near St. Louis.  In DuPage County, the number of heroin deaths stayed in the twenties from 2007 through 2011.  In 2013, this number rose to forty-six.  Heroin deaths in Madison County, northeast of St. Louis, increased by more than 66 percent in 2009. Overall, at least 900 Illinoisans died from a heroin overdose in the last three years.


“Opioid use – including both prescription drug and heroin abuse – is an epidemic that has struck the heart of too many Illinois communities,” Durbin said. “This bill will help address the rising death toll by supporting federal, state, and local efforts to prevent and respond to drug overdoses. I commend Senator Reed for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with our colleagues on developing a national response to this tragic trend.”  


“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 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.”


The Overdose Prevention Act, which builds on an Illinois law passed in 2010, aims to decrease the rate of drug overdose deaths by improving access to naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of an opioid overdose.  Naloxone has no side effects or potential for abuse, and is widely recognized as an important tool to help prevent drug overdose deaths, but many communities struggle to get naloxone to those on the front lines who need it most.  The bill would also encourage the implementation of overdose prevention programs, improve surveillance of overdose occurrences, and establish a coordinated federal plan of action to address the epidemic.


Specifically, the bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award funding through cooperative agreements to eligible entities – like public health agencies or community-based organizations with expertise in preventing overdose deaths.  As a condition of participation, an entity would use the grant to purchase and distribute naloxone, and carry out overdose prevention activities, such as educating prescribers and pharmacists or training first responders and others on how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer naloxone and other first aid.


The Overdose Prevention Act mirrors legislation championed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD).


A federally-funded study by the CDC released last year found that increasing access to naloxone and overdose prevention activities are effective at reducing deaths from opioid overdoses.  A CDC report issued in 2012 found that overdose prevention programs have saved more than 10,100 lives since 1996.


As rates of overdose deaths continue to spike, public health agencies, law enforcement, and others are struggling to keep up without accurate and timely information about the epidemic.  Therefore, the Overdose Prevention Act would also require HHS to take steps to improve surveillance and research of drug overdose deaths, such as:


  • Authorize HHS to award cooperative agreements to eligible entities looking to improve fatal and nonfatal drug overdose surveillance and reporting capabilities;
  • Require HHS, in consultation with a task force comprised of stakeholders, to develop and submit to Congress a plan to reduce the number of deaths occurring from overdoses of drugs;
  • Require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director to prioritize research on drug overdose and overdose prevention.


Americans 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.  While overdoses from illegal drugs persist as a major public health problem, fatal overdoses from prescribed opioid pain medications such as oxycodone account now for more than 40 percent of all overdose deaths.


The Overdose Prevention Act is supported by the Trust for America’s Health, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Harm Reduction Coalition.