Committee chairman aims for House vote on opioid bills by Memorial Day

Committee chairman aims for House vote on opioid bills by Memorial Day
© Greg Nash

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenThis week: House GOP caught in immigration limbo Congress tackles mounting opioid epidemic Facebook faces new data firestorm MORE (R-Ore.) is aiming to get a House vote on opioid epidemic legislation by Memorial Day.

The panel is gearing up to begin work Feb. 28 on bills aimed at curbing the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic plaguing the country, as overdose deaths from opioid use jumped nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016. 

Many advocates have been calling for more funding to combat the opioid epidemic, and in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Walden called combatting the crisis his “top priority,” saying, “There’s going to be money — more money than has ever been spent.”

The Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a Member Day hearing in October, where more than 50 lawmakers testified on ways to combat the opioid epidemic as well as shared stories of how the crisis has hit their communities.

The committee plans to hold three legislative hearings in the coming weeks, as first reported by the Journal.

Next week's hearing will focus on enforcement-related legislation and two hearings next month will discuss bills on prevention and insurance coverage.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLive coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report GAO to look into Trump's reduction of carbon social costs Overnight Energy: Pruitt used security detail to run errands | Dems want probe into Pruitt's Chick-fil-A dealings | Yellowstone superintendent says he was forced out MORE (D-R.I.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Lawmakers, businesses await guidance on tax law MORE (R-Ohio) are hammering out a follow-up to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which was signed into law in 2016. Whitehouse called the new bill “CARA 2.0” at an event hosted by The Hill last week.

Congress passed a two-year budget deal earlier this month that included $6 billion to fight the opioid and mental health crises nationwide. 

Whitehouse said he and Portman are working to “make sure that the $6 billion ... gets dedicated and appropriated in ways that are consistent with the direction that the Congress displayed in CARA, and so we’re trying to meld the commitment and the CARA principles together,” Whitehouse said at the event. “We’re trying to sort it out fairly quickly.”

In late October, the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. But advocates and Democrats were frustrated that the move didn’t free up much funding or include an ask to Congress. They have criticized the response as not leading to much action of consequence so far.