House Passes Bills to Combat Opioid Abuse

House Passes Bills to Combat Opioid Abuse
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The House on Friday overwhelmingly passed comprehensive legislation aimed at combating the prescription drug epidemic that has led to more deaths from overdoses in recent years than from car accidents.

It passed by a vote of 400-5, and is the last of 18 pieces of bipartisan legislation the House passed this week to address the drug crisis.

Abuse of opioids, which are synthetic painkillers, has become a major problem in recent years; more than 28,000 people died from overdoses from the drugs in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999.

The legislation that passed the House aims to fight the crisis in a number of ways, including helping pregnant mothers who suffer from addiction, increasing access to naloxone (a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose), and creating a task force of patients, medical officials, advocacy groups and federal agencies to establish guidelines for prescribing pain medication.

“This has been a very big week in the House. Addiction divides families. Addiction tears communities apart. Addiction takes lives,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at a press conference attended by two dozen Republican lawmakers. “This week, action was taken. It was a bipartisan action.”

Speaker Paul Ryan has made the issue a top priority, highlighting the legislation multiple times throughout the week. In a press conference with House leadership Wednesday, he invited Reps. Susan Brooks of Indiana and Robert Dold of Illinois, both of whom sponsored opioid measures that passed this week, to talk about the personal impact of the epidemic – both lawmakers highlighted stories of 20-year-old men in their states who died of overdoses.

The next day, in a crowded press conference following Ryan’s much-anticipated meeting with presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, the speaker opened his remarks by talking about the opioids bills.

“This opioid epidemic is something that we have to get on top of,” Ryan said. “I am very proud of the Republicans and Democrats that have come together to address this situation because this really is about people's lives. It is about whole communities that are being torn apart. And I believe we can win this fight and we must.”

The Senate passed comprehensive legislation by a 94-1 vote in March that would authorize $725 million in grants for state and local governments to strengthen drug monitoring, improve addiction treatment and expand prevention, education and law enforcement efforts. The bill the House passed Friday brings together the different measures passed throughout the week into one comprehensive package.

The House and Senate are expected to quickly create a conference committee to iron out the differences between their measures and send the legislation to President Obama, who is expected to sign it. Despite the overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle, issues of funding remain. The White House proposed $1.1 billion in new funding to combat the addiction problem, but while the current legislation calls for a lesser amount, it doesn’t actually provide the funding.

Democrats in both chambers of Congress attempted to pass amendments that would have provided $600 million in funding but Republicans blocked both efforts and plan to iron out the issue in the regular appropriations process later this year.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the author of the Senate’s opioid legislation, has been aggressively pushing the House since his bill passed in March to act more swiftly and in a comprehensive way on this issue. Portman said on MSNBC earlier this week that he’s confident the House and Senate versions can be brought together into a single comprehensive bill and sent to the president’s desk soon.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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