Health

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging his colleagues to vote for a bill to help tackle the country’s opioid epidemic.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) would authorize the U.S. Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, which have hit Kentucky and Southern Indiana particularly hard.

McConnell spoke from the Senate floor Tuesday. He said the bipartisan legislation — which was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island — comes at a time when the nation needs it most.

“It would help combat prescription opioid and heroin addictions by strengthening education and treatment programs, improving prescription drug monitoring tools, and enhancing law enforcement efforts,” said McConnell from the Senate floor Tuesday.

CARA could provide up to $80 million toward prevention, treatment and recovery support services if Congress appropriates the funds.

McConnell said Congress appropriated $400 million to opioid-specific programs a few months ago, and those funds are still available. The new legislation would reauthorize current programs and add initiatives.

Last year, former Gov. Steve Beshear signed the state’s heroin bill into law. It included provisions for health departments to begin needle exchange programs in response to the commonwealth’s heroin epidemic.

The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy reported 1,087 overdose deaths in 2014 compared with 1,010 in 2013. Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county last year with 204.

The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the bill Wednesday or Thursday.