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SCOTUS-Split Senate Rallies on Vote to Fight Heroin

WASHINGTON (CN) - Overcoming weeks of partisan bickering over the Supreme Court, the Senate passed a bill Thursday aimed at curbing the nation's heroin epidemic.

With 94 votes in favor, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 authorizes a series of grants for states and nonprofit organizations to craft new education, treatment and recovery programs for people struggling with heroin or other opioid addictions.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., cast the lone vote against the bill. The three senators still in the running for the presidency - Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Independent Bernie Sanders - missed the vote.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is not in Washington while battling breast cancer, also missed the vote.

The bill is geared specifically toward helping states and cities launch programs that will single out addicts in jails and prisons for help in their recovery. Another provision of the bill includes grants to make overdose treatments like naloxone more readily available to police and first responders.

Overdose deaths from heroin and opioid painkillers have risen 200 percent since 2002, and 2014 was the deadliest year on record, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because abuse of prescription painkillers has a role in the overdose surge, the bill also creates grants for states to expand programs that help people dispose of unused painkillers.

"I'm proud of the Senate's decisive, bipartisan action to help address America's growing prescription opioid and heroin epidemic," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "The bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will help combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic at every level: by improving education and awareness, by expanding overdose prevention and prescription drug-monitoring programs, and by bolstering law enforcement's ability to fight back."

A tepid endorsement from the White House said the bill takes good steps toward a solution but doesn't provide the money necessary to truly combat the opioid problem.

"While S.524 identifies several steps needed to respond to the opioid epidemic, the administration is concerned that the bill does not include the funding necessary to implement these steps - and until that funding is provided by the Congress, these steps would do little to address the epidemic," the White House said in a statement, referring to the bill by its formal name.

Before the bill's overwhelming passage Thursday, Senate Democrats took the floor to push for more funding, slamming Republicans for rejecting an amendment that would have tacked on an additional $600 million in emergency funds for public-health professionals and law-enforcement agencies.

"That amendment was defeated, and I think that was the wrong conclusion for the Senate and I think wrong for the country," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., said before the vote.

After Republicans announced last month they would not hold hearings on any nominee President Barack Obama might tap to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, some lawmakers expressed concerns the blockade could reach beyond the vacancy and into pending legislation.

Thursday's bill is the first major legislation the Senate has passed since Scalia's death on Feb. 13.

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