The United States Senate approved what is being called a “landmark” bill that will provide funding to combat the opioid crisis.
The 21st Century Cures Act passed 94-5 in the Senate and heads to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law. This bill now goes to president, who is expected to sign it before the end of the year.
The bill includes $1 billion in emergency funding to address the opioid and heroin crisis and increased investments in cancer treatment and medical research
One of the co-authors of the bipartisan bill was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut.
"It came from Connecticut,” Murphy said. "I organized over two dozen road tables with advocates, parents and patients."
“In Connecticut, I've met too many people struggling with mental illness who can't find the care they need, or can't get their insurance company to approve the care once they find it. This bill means millions of dollars in new treatment, and it creates a pathway to a better integrated, more coordinated system for people with serious mental illness,” Murphy said in a statement on Wednesday.
Murphy said the tragedy at Sandy Hook was a big part of this reform.
The bill makes insurance companies pay and provides more resources for schools and requires doctors to share more information. An important component will provide more funding for painkiller and heroin abuse.
The reform gets the federal government involved for the first time and provides $1 billion for education, treatment and cracking down on illegal sales.
"You have to stop people from getting on the drug in the first place,” Murphy said.
Murphy called the bill “the most comprehensive reform of our nation's mental health laws in a generation.” He added that it was passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Murphy worked with U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on the bill. Murphy said Cassidy "brought a doctor’s knowledge and a dogged determination to our effort, and a lot of people will be better off because of it.”
"I want to thank all those who helped make mental health a priority in Congress, but I especially thank my colleague Senator Chris Murphy. We have been working together to fix our country’s broken mental health system since day one. Without him and the bipartisan effort he has brought to this legislation, we would not be here today. I urge the President to sign this bill and help the millions of individuals and families affected by mental health become whole,” Cassidy said in a statement on Wednesday.
Connecticut resident Lisa Johns' son struggled with painkillers and heroin for years before he lost his battle with addiction.
"We need to educate them as early as middle school," Johns said.
It began with pain killers for an injury. Johns has started a support group in southeastern Connecticut. One day, Johns said she hopes to have a treatment center.
"The waiting list is four to six weeks" Johns said. "As you know we can get them into detox, but then we don't have a place to put them. They relapse and then overdose."
One thing parents such as Johns are hoping is money for more Narcan kits. Narcan can reverse an overdose, however the kits are expensive. But, parents said you can't put a price on life.
Other lawmakers for Connecticut commented on the bill.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the bill "America’s money where its mouth is when it comes to public health."
“Investment is key to saving lives, and this measure invests in critical initiatives that will make a real impact in the daily lives of people across Connecticut. It takes meaningful steps to combat the opioid epidemic currently plaguing our communities. It improves access to vital mental health services to ensure mental health care is readily available without stigma or additional hurdles. It spurs landmark action in the effort to address Lyme Disease, and increases support for groundbreaking medical research,” Blumenthal said in a statement on Wednesday.
Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-2) and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) said they represent "communities that have been devastated by opioid addiction and that don’t have the resources they need to deal with the crisis."
“At long last, this bill provides real, tangible funds to help our cities and towns prevent folks from becoming addicted to opiates and to help families affected by this epidemic recover and move forward. We will work hard in the New Year to ensure Congress renews this investment in the wellbeing of our communities and continue fighting for bipartisan reforms that will help Connecticut finally turn the tide on drug addiction,” Courtney and Esty said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
To read a fact sheet on the bill, click here.
Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.