Press Release  | 08/02/2012

Bipartisan Federal Legislation Introduced by Rep. Edwards (D-MD) and Rep. Bono Mack (R-CA) to Create Coordinated Federal Plan to Combat Nationwide Overdose Epidemic

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A Fatal Overdose Occurs in the U.S. Every 14 Minutes; More than Twice as Many Accidental Deaths Annually from Overdose than Firearms

Legislation Would Scale Up Overdose Prevention Programs that Have Already Saved More Than 10,000 Lives – And Could Save Many More

Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-4th/MD), along with Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-45th/CA) and nearly two dozen other Members of Congress, will introduce the Stop Overdose Stat (S.O.S.) Act today to support lifesaving community-based efforts to prevent fatal drug overdoses and to establish a coordinated federal plan to combat what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared to be a public health epidemic. The S.O.S. Act will create federal support for overdose prevention, education and training run by cities, states, tribal governments and community groups.  Key components of overdose prevention programs include training people at-risk of an overdose (and their caregivers) how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer first aid and naloxone, a medication that quickly reverses an overdose from heroin and opioid pain relievers.

Despite growing recognition among federal health authorities and lawmakers that overdose prevention programs employ techniques and resources that are highly effective at saving lives at low-cost to taxpayers, few federal dollars are dedicated to supporting these critical programs. A recent CDC report credits overdose prevention programs with saving more than 10,000 lives since 1996.

"Local health officials and frontline workers engaged in overdose prevention are saving lives every day using straightforward, low-cost interventions. With federal support, we could be saving many more lives and spare countless families from enduring the heart wrenching, yet completely preventable, loss of a loved one,” said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Drug Policy Alliance applauds Congresswoman Edwards and Congresswoman Bono Mack for introducing this livesaving legislation and showing leadership on this issue in Congress.”

Accidental drug overdose far surpasses both unintentional and homicidal deaths from firearms and now ranks second only to auto collisions among the leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States. Since the late 1990s, fatal overdoses have jumped more than 140 percent nationwide, claiming more than 28,500 lives in 2009 (the latest year data is available). While overdoses from illegal drugs persist as a major public health problem, fatal overdoses from prescribed opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone account for more than 40 percent of all overdose deaths.

“The S.O.S Act will fight a growing health crisis that is going largely unnoticed in our country,” said Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards. “Approximately 30,000 Americans die each year from drug overdoses, yet the national response to combat this ongoing crisis remains woefully inadequate.  It is time that the federal government took on an active role in promoting proven treatments recommended by medical associations. I want to thank Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack for joining me in introducing the S.O.S. Act, and I look forward to working with all my colleagues to pass this bill into law.”

“As Americans, we rally around efforts to fight breast cancer, childhood diseases and other serious health threats. But for far too long, there have only been hushed whispers about prescription drug abuse – now the fastest growing drug problem in America.  So as the death toll from prescription drug overdoses continues to rise sharply, it’s time to move this story from the obituary page to the front page where it belongs, said Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack. “It’s time to realize that we can’t simply wish this horrific problem away. Not with more than 20,000 people a year dying from it.  Not when the number of newborn babies who must be withdrawn from opiate dependence at birth has tripled in the past decade.  Not when nearly one out of 4 high school seniors has used prescription painkillers.  This is nothing less than a national tragedy.  If 20,000 people died each year from food poisoning, Americans would demand immediate action,” said Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

More than 180 overdose prevention programs have been successfully implemented nationwide, including statewide programs in New Mexico, Massachusetts and New York, and in cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The American Medical Association recently adopted a resolution supporting the expansion of overdose prevention programs that offer naloxone, education and training services. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration held a public workshop in collaboration with other federal health agencies to explore ways to make naloxone more widely available in community settings.

Tony Newman, Drug Policy Alliance: 646-335-5384
Benjamin Gerdes, Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards: 202-225-8699
Emma Racila, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack: 202-225-5330

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