Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown Hear Testimony on Opiate Addiction

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by Nick Castele

Both of Ohio’s U.S. senators met at University Hospitals in Cleveland on Friday to hear from experts on opiate addiction.

Doctors, law enforcement officials and others offered a range of approaches to reducing overdose deaths. They recommended making overdose antidotes and treatment programs more available, and urged restraint in the prescribing of painkillers.

Sen. Rob Portman is hoping to muster support for an opiates bill he sponsored that passed the Senate overwhelmingly and is now awaiting a vote in the House.

“It helps law enforcement to be able to have Narcan available to save people’s lives,” Portman, describing his bill, told reporters. “It helps in terms of getting prescription drugs off of bathroom shelves and to set up a national drug monitoring program to stop the overprescribing.”

Senator Sherrod Brown is pushing for more federal funding for addiction treatment.

“In almost every community, they’re crying out for more help,” Brown said, speaking of communities in which he took part in discussions about opiates. “They’re crying out for help because no one expected the numbers to explode the way they have.”

From 2007 to 2014, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Ohio grew from 143 to 1177, according to state health department data.

Among those who testified was Dr. Michele Walsh, the chief of neonatology at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. She helps treat infants born addicted—a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“In the 18 months that we’ve been working throughout the state, we have treated over 4,000 newborns with opiates for NAS,” Walsh said.

Walsh said more study is needed to determine how such children fare as they grow up. 

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