Ohio’s senators offer separate anti-heroin bills

CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio’s Democratic senator on Wednesday offered his own plan for battling the deadly drug overdose epidemic affecting many states, including his own.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Cleveland said his federal legislation treats opioid addiction as a multifaceted problem and includes prevention, crisis response, increased access to treatment and long-term recovery support. His Republican counterpart, Sen. Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area, has been promoting anti-heroin legislation already moving forward in Washington.

Brown’s bill calls for funding expanded training for responding to overdoses and for needle exchange programs, offering financial support to encourage health professionals treating substance use disorders, and targeting help for states and regions seeing sharp increases in heroin and prescription drug abuse.

“It shouldn’t be easier for Ohioans to get their hands on opioids than it is for them to get treatment for their addiction,” Brown said.

Portman seeks federal support for evidence-based treatment and recovery programs that are working on the local level. He would also expand prevention and education measures, drug takeback programs and stepped-up monitoring of painkiller prescription. His bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brown said he supports Portman’s work on the issue, but said his bill is more oriented toward law enforcement than Brown’s. He also said he has been working on the problem dating back years to the wave of painkiller abuse in rural southern Ohio.

“I’m hopeful that as this works its way through the process — it doesn’t really matter to me who the main sponsor is at the end — that it can be combined into something more comprehensive that deals with law enforcement and deals with addiction and treatment,” Brown said.

Portman spokeswoman Christyn Lansing said his office looks forward to reviewing the details of Brown’s bill, adding it hopes Brown will join the bipartisan support for Portman’s, “the only comprehensive approach that both addresses the heroin epidemic and is moving in the Senate.”

Nearly 2,500 Ohioans died in 2014 from accidental overdoses, an 18 percent rise from the previous year. It included a record number of heroin deaths, which rose from 986 in 2013 to 1,177 in 2014.

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