- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is leading a group of 18 Democratic U.S. senators calling for increased federal spending to combat the nation’s opioid crisis.

The Democratic Warren said only 10 percent of people struggling with substance abuse receive specialty treatment, mostly due to lack of funding for services.

The group sent a letter to Republican congressional leaders Wednesday urging additional funds be included in a $1 trillion budget bill aimed at preventing a partial government shutdown. The group also pressed for increased spending for the National Institutes of Health.

“Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose, and despite the tireless work of many in our communities, this public health epidemic is only getting worse,” the senators wrote.

Massachusetts health officials have estimated unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths rose for a sixth consecutive year in 2016, with the final number approaching or exceeding 2,000 - or more than 5 deaths per day.

While 2016 brought a decline in deaths blamed on heroin, it was offset by a corresponding increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Toxicology screens showed fentanyl - a powerful synthetic opioid - was present in 75 percent of the fatalities, a percentage that has been rising sharply since mid-2015.

The letter comes a day after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker announced Massachusetts had received a nearly $12 million federal grant to boost the state’s public health response to the opioid epidemic, including outpatient opioid treatment, recovery services and expanded community overdose prevention programs.

Bakers said the money was authorized under the 21st Century Cures Act which was signed into law late last year.

Warren sharply criticized the legislation at the time, saying it included too much for the pharmaceutical industry and not enough for the National Institutes of Health and the opioid crisis.

Republicans have criticized Warren, saying the state received the $12 million despite her opposition to the bill.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is also backing the effort.

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