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Brown introduces bill to combat opiate crisis

CHESAPEAKE — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced legislation Wednesday that he said would comprehensively address the opiate crisis.

In a conference call with reporters, Brown said his bill would address the issue, from prevention to treatment to recovery.

“Addiction isn’t an individual problem or a character flaw. It’s a chronic disease that, when left untreated, places a massive burden on our health care system, our families, and communities,” Brown said. “That’s why I’ve introduced the Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Reduction Act, a comprehensive solution to address this multifaceted problem. It should not be easier for Ohioans to get their hands on opioids than it is for them to get help to treat their addiction.”

Brown said 2015 saw the highest number of deaths from opiate overdoes so far, and that 2,500 Ohio families lost a loved one.

He said his bill would increase prevention efforts, improve tools for crisis response for those who fall through the cracks, expanding treatment access and provide support for lifelong recovery.

“It shouldn’t be easier for an Ohioan to get opiates than to get treatment,” he said.

Brown said his legislation would focus effective medication-assisted treatment on areas which have had rapid increases in heroin and prescription opioid use, authorize grants to increase access to residential treatment programs for pregnant and post-partum women and increase the number of trained care providers by creating a loan repayment program for health professionals working on treatment issues.

In addition, it would create a National Youth Recovery Initiative by launching a grant program for recovery high schools and higher education institutions to provide recovery support services to students.

The senator was joined on the call by Juni Johnson, the director of the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board in Chillicothe, where Brown hosted a recent roundtable discussion on the issue. The group contracts with public and private health providers to ensure access to community-based addiction and mental health services.

Johnson said one of the most important tools in fighting the epidemic is an evidence-based prevention program in public schools, in which the anti-drug curriculum would be strengthened and taught regularly over a longer period of time. She said this approach has yielded better results than simply bringing in guest speakers for emotional pitches.

U.S. Rob Portman, R – Ohio, is also working on a bill to address the opiate crisis. Brown said his efforts are not in opposition to Portman’s, but that his bill focuses on the treatment side of the issue, while Portman’s is geared more toward the law enforcement angle.

Brown said he hopes the two bills could eventually be used together as part of a larger effort.