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Bill to battle opiate addiction epidemic passes

Posted at 6:15 PM, Jul 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-14 22:23:35-04

A Las Vegas mother's grief and a father's battle cry are heard in Washington D.C. 

This as Congress passes long overdue legislation to help combat the nation's opiate addiction epidemic.

But as Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports, there's something big missing from the bill.

There are things within Susan and Jerry O'Neal's control, and things that are not.

"It took us a couple years to figure out that it was heroin," says Susan. "We didn't know right away. I think part of it may have been denial."

The couple  stood by helplessly watching one effort after another fail to pull their now-20-year-old daughter out of a years-long drug addiction.

"It's a cancer," said Jerry. "I mean, it's just like, it's all over the place."

Their daughter's descent from pain pills to heroin forced them into the addiction arena, and the stark reality of needing to have help on hand. 

Both got prescriptions from their doctors for Narcan--a potentially life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose, leaving time to get proper medical attention.

"That is one more chance of hope that that child may get the help they need that day," Susan says of her own daughter and others like her.

But that help comes with a stunningly high price tag.

"You could buy a dose of life-saving Narcan for $17 four or five years ago," Jerry recalls. "Now, it's $3500 for the needle injection and it's almost $400 for the nasal injection that they just came out with."

Coupons brought the cost for the family down to about $250 for the nasal version of Narcan. But still...

"It makes me really angry that the cost is that high," Susan says. "It's ridiculous."

The newly passed Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act doesn't curb that high cost, but lawmakers did include grants and programs for community recovery support services and overdose reversal drugs.

"They're getting hammered by people like us because our kids are dying," said Jerry. "Our family members are dying from this."

Angela Hill, Scripps national investigative producer, followed the bill's progress on Capitol Hill.

"This is the first time in decades that Congress has come together in a bipartisan way to really put together a comprehensive addiction package that would really meet the needs of families across this country."

Families fighting addiction and those battling chronic pain.

Darcy Spears:People who count on pain pills for legitimate needs often have a hard time getting access to what they need. Is there something in the bill that will help bridge that gap?

Angela Hill: There are safeguards put into place and care teams that make sure that these folks will be able to get access easily--will not have to receive a lot of delay in getting the drug they so desperately need.

The bill provides for partial prescriptions and covers emergency situations where a prescription must be filled within 72 hours.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. 

It includes $181 million in new spending with hopes for $500 million more for opioid programs in the next budget year.