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 WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world 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.”

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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 WhitehouseDemocrats draw red lines in spending fight What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling Climate hawks pressure Biden to replace Fed chair MORE (D-R.I.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMajor US port target of attempted cyber attack Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Officials urge Congress to consider fining companies that fail to report cyber incidents 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.