Senate Health panel approves opioid bill

Senate Health panel approves opioid bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate Health Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to send the panel’s bipartisan opioid bill to the chamber’s floor.

The panel held seven hearings on the opioid crisis, including one on the discussion draft of the bill introduced by Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students Senate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE (D-Wash.). Lawmakers touted the bipartisan process used to craft the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 aimed at combating the opioid crisis, which has shown no signs of slowing down.

“The challenge before us has sometimes been described as needing a moonshot,” Alexander said during the markup. “I believe that solving the opioid crisis might require the energy of a moonshot, but ultimately, it’s not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.

“I wish we could have a single blockbuster idea that an agency here could deal with and solve the problem: What we can do is take a number of steps to create an environment so that everyone … can succeed in fighting the crisis community by community.”

The bill includes more than 40 proposals from 38 different senators, Alexander said. Specifically, it includes measures attempting to make it easier to prescribe smaller packs of opioids for limited durations, spur the development of nonaddictive painkillers and bolster the detection of illegal drugs at the border.

Alexander said he expects other committees will also have ideas on how to combat the opioid epidemic, “but if we can present our framework to Senator [Mitch] McConnell, maybe this is something the Senate can move on this summer.”

During the markup, the panel approved several amendments unanimously.

An amendment from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Americans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent MORE (I-Vt.) — which sought to impose retroactive civil fines on companies and executives that illegally marketed or distributed opioids — failed in an 8 to 15 vote. Sanders introduced similar legislation last week.

Murray said she “strongly supports” the goals of Sanders's amendment. “Companies making false claims about the addictive nature of opioids while seeking to pad their bottom line should be held accountable for their role in starting and perpetuating this crisis.”

But she voiced concerns that the amendment needs “a few revisions so it doesn’t undermine legitimate prescribing,” in explaining her "no" vote and saying she wants to work with Sanders on the measure.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will vote on more than 60 opioid bills, beginning Wednesday afternoon. The full committee's chairman, Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ore.), hopes to send legislation to the House floor by Memorial Day weekend.