Obama, GOP find common ground on fighting drug abuse


President Obama and congressional Republicans struck a note of bipartisanship Wednesday on the issue of fighting drug abuse.

Obama traveled to West Virginia, a state that has been hit particularly hard, to announce new actions focused on the problem.

{mosads}The president is ordering training about safe prescribing practices for the federal government’s healthcare professionals. In addition, more than 40 healthcare provider groups have committed to ensuring that 540,000 health professionals complete opioid prescriber training.

Major network TV channels and sports leagues such as the NBA are also donating media space for public service announcements about the risks of prescription drug misuse. 

Deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, with more than 16,000 people killed in 2013 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“I was stunned by this statistic,” Obama said Wednesday. “More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do from motor vehicle crashes.”

Fighting drug abuse has been a rare area of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, and Obama noted that both parties are moving toward an emphasis of treatment over jail time. 

“Democrats and Republicans were both responsible for wanting to look tough on the war on drugs,” Obama said. “Now both at the same time are realizing, ‘You know what? What are we doing here?’ ”

Obama received praise from Republican lawmakers for his trip to West Virginia. 

“Today’s announcement is encouraging, because it’s always positive to see Republicans and Democrats working together to address this epidemic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor. 

McConnell has worked with the White House’s drug policy director to fight drug abuse in his home state of Kentucky. 

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also praised the administration for announcing that it is reviewing how opioids factor into a patient satisfaction survey used by Medicare. 

Both senators say they previously raised concerns with the administration that the survey could be incentivizing the prescription of more painkillers. Doctors’ payments are to some degree based on how well patients rate them on the surveys, and they tend to be rated higher if the patients are prescribed the maximum amount of painkillers. 

There are still some points to be worked out, though. Obama noted that his budget requested $133 million more to fight drug abuse.

“That’s going to require Congress,” he said. 

Tags Chuck Grassley Lamar Alexander Mitch McConnell

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