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Opiate abuse VA reform bill passes Congress and heads to the President’s desk

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VA Hospital Matt York AP

An opiate abuse bill that includes Veterans Administration reforms inspired by events at the Tomah VA Medical Center is heading to the president’s desk.

The bill, originally drafted as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, expands the availability of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, bolsters prescription drug monitoring programs and shifts some criminal justice resources toward addiction treatment.

It was later amended to include language from bills crafted by Wisconsin lawmakers Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Ron Kind in the wake of 2015 media reports that doctors at the Tomah facility were over-prescribing narcotic painkillers. Both bills were named for Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old veteran who died in 2014 while at the Tomah VA from a toxic combination of prescription medications.

The bill requires the VA to update its guidelines for opioid therapy and pain management, provide additional training for VA prescribers, and gives Congress more direct oversight of the department. It also creates a new office of patient advocacy so that people who are supposed to intervene on behalf of veterans don’t report to the directors of their particular facility, one of several measures pushed for by Simcakoski’s family.

The Senate voted 92-2 Wednesday to pass the CARA bill, which last week cleared the House on a vote of 407-5.

Marv Simcakoski said the vote shows the importance of the bill, which he hopes will help veterans like his son. He said his family is looking forward to meeting with President Barack Obama when he signs the bill.

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(c)2016 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.) at www.lacrossetribune.com

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