- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

CLEVELAND — Fresh off passage of his signature opioids bill, Sen. Rob Portman shirked a victory lap outside the Republican National Convention on Wednesday and warned that overdoses from prescription painkillers and heroin continue to kill scores of Ohioans.

Mr. Portman, Ohio Republican, has made the opioid epidemic a main focal point of his bitter re-election bid against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

On Wednesday, he said a beautiful Day Three of the convention in Cleveland masked an underlying problem — 230 people have died in the city from overdoses this year, a dramatic increase over last year.

“We’re not on the right trajectory,” he said at an event with Ohio health officials and executives.

The rate of opioid overdose deaths from prescription drugs and heroin hit record levels in 2014, killing nearly 30,000, and polling shows two-thirds of Americans want Congress to do more to address the crisis in a contentious election year.

More people are dying from the epidemic than from automobile accidents in some places, and pop-music legend Prince died of an opioid fentanyl overdose in April, raising the visibility of the issue.

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Mr. Portman singled out fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, as a particular worry, since dozens of people recently died from it in Akron, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“This is an issue that, sadly, is getting worse, not better,” he said.

Hoping to turn the tide, Mr. Portman co-authored a comprehensive bill with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, that pushes alternatives to incarceration for those addicted to opioids and expands access to Naloxone, a drug that can counteract the effects of an overdose.

A package that wrapped in ideas from the House breezed through both chambers ahead of the party conventions, capping months of negotiations that hinged on Democratic demands for hundreds of millions in new spending to tackle the crisis.

GOP leaders rejected their demands, saying there is plenty of money in the pipeline to fight addiction, including $581 million in next year’s health spending bill, so Democrats were forced to rally around the bill and its bipartisan policies.

Ohio Democrats have accused Mr. Portman of failing to back up his tough talk on opioids, noting he voted against an “omnibus” spending package last fall that funds anti-addiction efforts.

Mr. Portman and two other Republicans facing tough re-election battles — Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois — did, however, support a Democratic effort this year to add $600 million in new money to the Senate opioids bill. Other Republicans shot it down, however.

Now, as the GOP gathers in Cleveland, Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they want the Obama administration to take steps outside of the legislative process to address the epidemic.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, penned a letter urging the Drug Enforcement Administration to rein in the number of opioids it allows into the market, because it sets quotas for their production each year.

“Fourteen billion opioid pills are now dispensed annually in the United States – enough for every adult American to have a bottle of pills,” Democrats wrote to acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “Certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is at fault for decades of misleading information about their products and the medical community bears responsibility for its role in over-prescribing these dangerous and addictive drugs, but we remain deeply troubled by the sheer volume of opioids available – volumes that are approved by DEA.”

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