Bipartisan senators urge Congress to fund fight to curb opioid crisis

Bipartisan senators urge Congress to fund fight to curb opioid crisis
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on Congress to provide significant funding to battle the opioid epidemic — and quickly.

The nine senators hail from areas the epidemic has hit particularly hard, and are arguing there’s an “urgent need for Congress to provide our states with the resources they need to deal with this public health emergency” in a letter sent Friday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFlake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats' education agenda would jeopardize state-level success Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Selling government assets would be a responsible move in infrastructure deal MORE (D-N.Y.).

“As the Senate considers pending supplemental and omnibus appropriation legislation, please make every effort to ensure that new, substantial and sustained funding for the opioid epidemic is included in any legislative package,” the senators wrote.

Democratic leaders have been pressing for any larger spending deal to include more funding to combat the crisis killing thousands of Americans each year, but GOP leader have not committed to more funding.

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“We've done a lot, put a lot of resources into combatting opioids already,” the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs MORE (S.D.), said last week. “If they've got a proposal, I'm sure we would take a look at it, but I don’t know that that's at least on the agenda at the moment.”

The epidemic has been plaguing both rural and urban areas across the country, leading to the rate of opioid overdose deaths quadrupling since 1999.

In late October, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report MORE declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, though the move didn’t free up money nor did it include a specific funding ask to Congress. Democratic lawmakers and some advocates panned the measure as ineffective unless it includes a robust infusion of federal funds.

The senators’ letter noted comments from a Dec. 4 press conference, where Eric Hargan — acting secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services — said the administration is “looking forward to hearing from Congress about how they intend to address this issue.”

“That means it is up to us to act,” the senators wrote.

The senators who signed onto the letter include Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyAction by Congress is needed to help victims of domestic violence Poll: Casey holds double-digit lead over Barletta in Pa. Senate race Ivanka Trump to press Senate on vocational training bill MORE Jr. (Pa.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenAmerica will not forget about Pastor Andrew Brunson Shaheen sidelined after skin surgery Members of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit MORE (N.H.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Health chief grilled on Trump drug pricing plan, ObamaCare case Health chief: Decision not to defend ObamaCare in court not a 'policy' position MORE (N.H.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Manchin up 9 points over GOP challenger in W.Va. Senate race Senate moderates push for meeting to discuss border crisis MORE (W.Va.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinMembers of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit Ellison introduces bill to curb stock buybacks Dem Senate super PAC reserves million in fall TV ads MORE (Wis.) and Republican Sens. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate DHS bill includes .6 billion for ‘fencing’ on border Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Trump presses for wall funding in DHS spending bill MORE (W.Va.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiIcebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill MORE (Maine), as well as independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingIcebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic Heckler yells ‘Mr. President, f--- you’ as Trump arrives at Capitol Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families MORE (Maine.)  

At a press briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to specify an amount or a timeline for additional money.

“The amount of money that it will take to combat this crisis is huge. We’re going to continue looking at the best ways to do that,” she said. “We’re working in an interagency process to see what that number looks like.”

When a reporter pressed if the appropriation would come by the end of the year, Sanders said, “I’m not aware that we can promise that a full funding for that would take place by the end of this year. This wasn’t a problem that happened overnight. We’re not going to be able to fix it overnight.”