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Senate Passes Bill to Combat Opioid Crisis, N.H. Senators Say Help Coming For Granite State

The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation last night targeting the misuse of opioids and other addictive drugs.

The measure would increase scrutiny of arriving international mail that may include illegal drugs. It would also make it easier for the National Institutes of Health to approve research on finding nonaddictive painkillers.

The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to require drug makers to package smaller quantities of drugs like opioids. And there would also be new federal grants for treatment centers, training emergency workers and research on prevention.

U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen hailed the measure's passage. The two Democrats crafted parts of the legislation. Hassan pointed to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, which she worked on as a member of the Senate's Health committee. She and Shaheen have pushed for opioid response efforts to be directed to states hardest hit by the drug crisis, like New Hampshire.

Shaheen touted provisions to support responders and care givers, including a national peer-support training and assistance center for addiction recovery support. As part of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, $20 million would be authorized for family-focused treatment and foster care that results from parental substance abuse.

 Lawmakers' focus on combating opioids comes amid alarming increases in drug overdose deaths, with the government estimating more than 72,000 of them last year. That figure has grown annually and is double the 36,000 who died in 2008.

California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania each had more than 4,000 people die from drug overdoses in 2016, while seven other states each lost more than 2,000 people to drugs, according to the most recent figures available. The states with the highest death rates per resident include West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire, along with the District of Columbia.

The House approved its own drug legislation this summer. Congressional leaders hope the two chambers will produce compromise legislation and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature by year's end.