Dems push for more money for opioid fight

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Top Democrats are pushing for additional federal dollars to combat the opioid epidemic, saying more money is needed to curb the crisis killing thousands of Americans each year.

Democrats have indicated that additional opioid funding will be one of several top priorities the party is pushing for in a larger spending deal. But Republicans haven’t matched their rhetoric, making it unclear if additional dollars will come in a spending package.  

“We’ve done a lot, put a lot of resources into combatting opioids already,” the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), said. “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.”

{mosads}Getting new money in an omnibus could take time, as lawmakers are still hashing out a deal on spending caps. They’re facing the more immediate deadline of keeping the government’s lights on after Dec. 8, with lawmakers still discussing how long a short-term spending measure should last.

That’s frustrated many advocates, who say a robust infusion of funds is needed to make a dent in the prescription painkiller and heroin crisis, which has lead to opioid overdose deaths quadrupling since 1999.

In late October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. The move didn’t come with millions of dollars nor did it include a funding request to Congress, though talks with lawmakers are continuing.

“President Trump has prioritized this issue by declaring the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency and directing the entire Administration to focus combating this ‘crisis next door’ that affects so many American families across the country,” Hogan Gidley, deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement.

“We will continue discussions with Congress on the appropriate level of funding needed to address this crisis,” he said.

But Trump won’t send a formal request asking for new funding for the opioid emergency, according to a Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson, who noted budget negotiations are ongoing. The spokesperson added that the administration expects Congress would commit “necessary resources” to combat the crisis “now and into the future.”

Democrats haven’t explicitly stated how much money they would want in a year-end spending bill.

On both sides of the Capitol, Democrats have introduced bills to increase funding for the opioid epidemic to the tune of $45 billion over 10 years, a nod to the amount of money Senate Republicans included in ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bills in part to offset changes to Medicaid.

“We need to reach a budget agreement that equally boosts funds for our military and key priorities here at home including the opioid crisis, pension plans and rural infrastructure,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement Monday.

In a Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee hearing, Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted a more than $700 million increase in funding for the opioid epidemic from his panel over the past three years.

“Obviously more money needs to follow that,” Blunt said. “But this committee particularly needs your help and the help of others — the help of these witnesses and others — in determining how that money can best be spent, how it can best work its way into the system, and some other group will have to figure out where to find the money that we know we need to find for this issue.”

Afterward, Blunt told reporters it’s unclear if new money from a negotiation on spending caps would go to his panel, but if it did, the opioid epidemic would be a contender to receive more funds.

“I’m definitely open to this being a serious topic of discussion if any new money becomes available,” Blunt said. “Not all of the money, but if any new money becomes available this will be a topic we’ll talk about.”

A Republican appropriations spokesperson wrote in a email that, “The Senate has pushed for funding increases through the regular appropriations process, which could be adjusted to better meet needs as a final omnibus bill is negotiated. The Committee is in regular contact with the relevant agencies on the best path forward.”

Last year, Congress passed a biomedical innovation bill that included a total of $500 million in state grants for fiscals 2017 and 2018 to address the opioid epidemic.

The Senate Labor HHS Appropriations bill crafted earlier in the year would provide $816 million to the crisis, which includes the $500 million from the 21st Century Cures Act. The House’s bill would allocate $747 million, including the Cures money.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last week that his panel was focused on oversight of those dollars, expressing doubt more money would come this year or early next year.

“We’ve been evaluating how those funds have been spent,” Walden told reporters. “We’re going to do more of that oversight into next year as we try to determine what is the number going forward that we need to try and find.”

“We know there’s going to be a need for more money for opioids, but there’s a wide range of estimates on what that number is,” he said.

But many advocates and Democrats argue more money — and a lot of it — is needed now.

“What’s needed to make a real difference in the lives of countless patients and families in my state and across the country struggling from addiction are real, immediate resources to fight this battle on the ground,” Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the top Democrat on the health appropriations subcommittee, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Advocates are working behind the scenes in attempts to get Congress to providing more money for the epidemic.

Patrick Kennedy, a vocal addiction advocate and former Rhode Island Democratic congressman, previously told The Hill that Congress should provide $100 billion over 10 years “just as a starting point, at a minimum, minimum, minimum.”

“If we don’t hear a minimum of a commitment to $100 billion or more over 10 years, we’re just not even at start, we’re not even at square one,” said Kennedy, who was a member of the president’s opioid commission.

Tags Charles Schumer Greg Walden John Thune Nancy Pelosi Patty Murray Roy Blunt
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