ATLANTA — In a nation’s capital seemingly more hopelessly split by intense partisan rhetoric than ever, Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley from Iowa have introduced a bill designed to help rural communities fight the opioid epidemic.

On Wednesday, Ossoff and Grassley introduced the Rural Opioid Abuse Prevention Act, which they said would help ensure rural communities experiencing a high level of opioid overdoses have the resources they need to respond to the crisis.

The program aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths in high-risk rural communities while raising awareness about local opioid use and substance abuse.

“Like so many Georgians, I’ve lost friends to the opioid epidemic,” Ossoff said. “My bipartisan bill with Sen. Grassley will fund efforts in rural communities to prevent and treat addiction and to save lives.”

“We’ve made some progress in fighting the opioid crisis, but with overdose deaths rising, Congress needs to act,” Grassley said. “Our bill will help communities in Iowa and across the country to prevent and handle any surge in opioid overdoses.

The two senators said their bill would:

♦ Identify current gaps in prevention, treatment, and recovery services for individuals who interact with the criminal justice system in rural areas.

♦ Increase or create new efforts to address the opioid crisis in the community.

♦ Dedicate funding to local governments and organizations with a documented history of providing services to rural communities or regions highly impacted by substance abuse.

Several national health and law enforcement praised the senators’ effort.

“This legislation will help rural communities across the nation receive grant funding to reduce opioid deaths by formalizing the Department of Justice rural responses to the opioid epidemic initiative,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen, it is critical that the federal government continues to invest in successful programs that help save lives, particularly in rural areas.”

“The opioid epidemic in rural America is unprecedented in our history,” according to a statement from the Small & Rural Law Enforcement Executives’ Association. “Many lives have been lost and families torn apart. Rural and tribal communities across our country continue to struggle with this epidemic and the COVID pandemic has made the drug overdose epidemic worse.

“Rural and tribal law enforcement are dealing with an increase in overdoses from illicit fentanyl, prescription opioids and heroin. Passing the Rural Opioid Abuse Prevention Act would provide resources to help rural communities combat opioid overdoses and provide alternatives to incarceration.”

“Additional substance abuse and addiction resources are desperately needed in all communities but particularly in rural communities where services and resources are lacking,” the Partnership to End Addiction wrote. “We hope this program will help to reduce the devastation of opioid overdoses on individuals and their families in rural communities.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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