Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic

Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic
© Greg Nash

A key Republican is touting efforts by the House to combat the national opioid epidemic, calling recent actions “rifle shots” at tackling targeted problems associated with the growing crisis.

Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurMillionaires group endorses Dem House candidates opposed to GOP tax law Election handicapper moves 10 races toward Dems Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (R-N.J.), a co-chair of the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, said Wednesday that the more than 50 bills passed by the House in the past two weeks are key to helping stem the epidemic.

“These are not funding bills,” MacArthur said at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.

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“They are policy changes, for the most part, and they deal with a range of things that all point to that prevention, treatment and recovery––there's a number of focus just on the fentanyl crisis, which is growing.”

The effort has largely been bipartisan and comes after Congress passed $6 billion over two years for mental health and to combat the opioid crisis. Democrats have sponsored and cosponsored opioid legislation, and only opposed a handful of the bills.

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John Ryan11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports Pelosi: I’m here as long as Trump is here Ohio Dem: 'I'm not necessarily some soft yoga guy' MORE (D-Ohio) said that he’s worked with Republican Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsMore than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic Dem candidate denies W.Va. is racist for rejecting Obama MORE (W.Va.) on legislation to tackle opioids. The crisis is hitting both red and blue areas of the country hard and has led to bipartisan work in a hyperpartisan Congress.

“There’s a lot of bipartisan support on this issue,” Ryan said.

“It’s not just hitting New York or just Los Angeles. It’s hitting southern Ohio, it’s hitting West Virginia. And it’s hitting Kentucky, so you’re getting a lot of red state members of Congress who are going back to their districts and really living with it every single day, and I think that’s driving a lot of the need.”

The event Wednesday focused on using technology and data to combat the opioid epidemic, which has contributed to thousands of American deaths per year. A panel of experts said that using such tools is imperative to crafting solutions to curb the crisis at a local level.

“Technology can really help us get out in front of this,” MacArthur said.

He said the country needs to make a “long overdue” move to electronic prescriptions because they’re “far more easily monitored and tracked.”

The New Jersey Republican also said databases tracking opioid prescribing and dispensing — known as prescription drug monitoring programs — are “helpful” but acknowledged they have limitations, such as the frequent lack of ability of states to see data from elsewhere.  

The role of technology in combating the opioid epidemic is “one piece of the puzzle,” Ryan said, adding that prescription drug monitoring programs are “really trying to create some transparency.” He has a bill with Jenkins to improve these databases.

On the data-side, Dr. Rahul Gupta, West Virginia health commissioner, spoke about how his department combed through hundreds of records on opioid overdose deaths to create a portrait of who was dying and to identify trends. This lead to the creation of policy recommendations, which were given to the state legislature and some have become law in the state.