Overnight Health Care: Rep. Debbie Dingell on the pain and tragedy of the opioids crisis | DEA moves to curb opioid oversupply | Dem says Trump pick opposes VA privatization

Overnight Health Care: Rep. Debbie Dingell on the pain and tragedy of the opioids crisis | DEA moves to curb opioid oversupply | Dem says Trump pick opposes VA privatization
© Greg Nash

Good evening, and welcome to Overnight Health Care. It's only Tuesday, but tomorrow is the last day of votes in the House for the week. We're jealous it's House lawmakers' Friday.

Keep reading for one Dem lawmaker's personal connection to the opioid crisis, details on a flurry of bills to deal with the epidemic and how President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE's pick to lead the VA is making the Senate rounds.


The second of The Hill's Close to Home series on opioids, presented by Partnership for Safe Medicines, took a deep dive into Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellTrump, Obamas and Clintons among leaders mourning Aretha Franklin House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress MORE's personal connection to the opioid epidemic.

The Michigan Democrat has seen what prescription painkillers can do. Both her father and sister misused opioids. Her sister died in 2005 from an overdose after cycling in and out of drug treatment centers. Sometimes, Dingell would call morgues when her family couldn't find Mary Grace, hoping she wasn't there.

But Dingell also knows that the drugs can help.

Her husband, 91-year-old John DingellJohn DingellTrump, Obamas and Clintons among leaders mourning Aretha Franklin Former Dem Rep. Dingell hits Ty Cobb over White House exit Overnight Health Care: Rep. Debbie Dingell on the pain and tragedy of the opioids crisis | DEA moves to curb opioid oversupply | Dem says Trump pick opposes VA privatization MORE -- the longest-serving member in Congress's history -- needs opioids to ease his chronic pain.

Key quote: "I try to tell people how complicated [the opioid epidemic] is," she said.
"We've got to be balanced, we've got to not make people with legitimate needs feel criminalized. We've got to keep kids from starting to begin with," she said of the nation's challenges when it comes to opioids.

Perspective: As state lawmakers and the health industry work to clamp down on opioid abuse, they've begun placing controversial limits on the opioids doctors can prescribe. 

Dingell says lawmakers must enact policies that help stem the tide of the epidemic, while remaining mindful that some patients in pain need access to opioids.

Read more here.


In case you're having trouble keeping track of all the opioid bills introduced, we've got you covered. Here's your roundup of bills introduced today: 

  • Senate Health Committee is moving its opioid bill through the legislative process. The panel's leaders formally introduced the bipartisan bill Tuesday after lawmakers reviewed a discussion draft during a legislative hearing last week. Next up: A mark up next week.


More opioid news:

Some communities, consisting of just thousands of people, have been flooded with millions of pills.

But a new proposed rule from the Drug Enforcement Administration aims to help reduce the oversupply of opioids in an effort to curb the number of painkillers sold illegally.

Specifically, the agency is proposing a rule that would change how it sets limits on the amount of opioids drug companies can make every year.

Key quote: "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller Watergate's John Dean: White House counsel is 'doing right' by cooperating with Mueller MORE said Tuesday during remarks he gave on the opioid crisis in North Carolina.

Context: West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) says the proposed rule is the result of a lawsuit he filed against the DEA seeking more transparency and input in the process the agency uses to determine how many opioids can be produced each year.

The lawsuit was placed on hold in March after Sessions asked the DEA to evaluate its policies on crafting production quotas for opioids.
Read more here.


Trump's VA pick says he doesn't support privatization efforts. But he hasn't told Trump that. Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Pearl Jam criticized for poster featuring dead Trump, burning White House Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad MORE (D-Mont.) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said Ronny Jackson pledged during a one-on-one meeting that he is against privatization.

Jackson is making courtesy visits to Democratic and Republican senators this week in a goodwill tour ahead of his April 25 committee hearing.


Why the promise is important: Trump's decision to oust former VA Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans MORE late last month and replace him with Jackson stoked speculation that the White House wants to allow veterans more access to private-sector health-care providers. The VA has denied it, but Democrats don't trust the administration, and could gum up Jackson's confirmation process.


Context: Tester said he has other concerns, and noted Jackson has yet to tell President Trump that he opposes privatization. Jackson "said all the right things," but the vetting process is just getting started, Tester said.

Read the full story here.


First endorsement from a new drug pricing group

Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW, a new drug pricing group trying to counterbalance drug companies' campaign spending, made its first campaign endorsement on Tuesday, of Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyOvernight Energy: Koch backs bill opposing carbon taxes | Lawmakers look to Interior budget to block offshore drilling | EPA defends FOIA process Koch backs House measure opposing carbon taxes This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (R-W.Va.).

"McKinley earned the support of patients thanks to his leadership on legislation that would lower drug prices, his independence from Big Pharma, and his work to protect rural hospitals from paying more for prescriptions for low-income West Virginians," the group said in a press release.


Look for more endorsements: The group plans to endorse more lawmakers in both parties. It is spending six figures on McKinley and plans to spend seven figures overall.

Read more here.


Tuesday roundup:

  • 113 health organizations, in a letter to House and Senate leadership, argue the Trump administration should withdraw a proposed rule that would expand access to short-term health plans "until it adequately protects patients and consumers." Such plans would harm patients with serious, acute and chronic diseases and disabilities, they argue.
  • GOP New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu initially resisted a visit to his state from President Trump last month over the country's opioid addiction crisis, telling the White House that he didn't want his state used as a prop for the administration, according to a report from CBS. "The president cannot come to New Hampshire without a plan that has substance," Sununu reportedly told the White House. "You can't come here with an empty bag and use the state as a prop," a source added, paraphrasing the governor.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is postponing a planned appearance before a Senate committee on Thursday as he recovers from an intestinal condition, an HHS official said Tuesday. The official said Azar, who was hospitalized overnight on Sunday before being released, has had his first bout of diverticulitis, an infection of pouches in the colon that can be painful.


What we're reading

Nursing homes routinely refuse people on addiction treatment (Stat)

Why deep-brain stimulation for depression didn't pass clinical trials (The Atlantic)

Congressional advisers urge Medicare payments to many stand-alone ERs be cut (Kaiser Health News)


State by state

California insurer faces whistleblower complaint over health law taxes (California Healthline)

Nebraska doesn't extend Medicaid benefits to elderly nuns (AP)

Pennsylvania House OKs work mandate for 'able-bodied' Medicaid recipients (AP)


From The Hill's Opinion page:

Baltimore City's real solution to the opioid epidemic

'Right to try' efforts have been timid and poorly conceived