House passes bipartisan bill to fight opioid crisis

House passes bipartisan bill to fight opioid crisis
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The House on Friday passed bipartisan legislation aimed at fighting the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse, culminating months of work on the crisis.

The measure, which passed 396 to 14, is the broadest of dozens of bills on the topic passed by the House over the past two weeks.

The raft of legislation presents a rare moment of bipartisanship for a chamber otherwise torn by mounting tensions over immigration.

Several of the measures are sponsored by House Republicans facing tough reelection races — and their success could help drum up support on the campaign trail.   

“At a time when it seems we couldn't be more divided, it’s clear that striking back against addiction is something that transcends politics and brings us together as a community, as a country and as a Congress,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: DOJ proposes tech liability shield reform to Congress | Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities | House Republican introduces bill to set standards for self-driving cars OVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right House energy package sparks criticism from left and right MORE (R-Ore.), who has led the chamber’s opioid efforts.

Still, some say the legislation is not enough to make the large-scale changes needed to fight the epidemic.

Addiction advocates largely praise the measures as good steps forward, but say that much more work and funding is needed to tackle the issue's scale.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PallonePharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine Dem chairmen urge CMS to prevent nursing homes from seizing stimulus payments Federal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the bill makes “incremental changes to support those affected by the opioid crisis” but that it “does not adequately deal with the magnitude of the crisis that this country is facing.”

Opioid overdoses killed 42,000 people in 2016, the most of any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Democrats proposed changes to the bill that would have invested an additional $1 billion per year to fight opioid addiction — paid for by a measure to fight high drug prices — but the bill was defeated in a vote largely along party lines.

The legislation, passed Friday, includes a range of measures to fight the epidemic, including lifting some limits on prescribing Buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The bill also requires health-care professionals to write prescriptions for Medicare beneficiaries electronically in order to better track prescriptions and to allow Medicare to cover treatment at addiction treatment clinics.

The measure's passage comes days after the House passed additional bills aimed at combatting opioid addiction, some of which included lifting certain limits on Medicaid's contribution for opioid care at treatment facilities and cracking down on imports of illicit opioids into the United States via mail.

Ahead of the bill’s passage on Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy threatens motion to oust Pelosi if she moves forward with impeachment Kate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House McCarthy's Democratic challenger to launch first TV ad highlighting Air Force service as single mother MORE (R-Calif.) urged members to vote for the legislation, noting the personal impact it's had on people in his district and within his own office.

“Let that be a lesson to us all: There is no event so joyful, no place so safe, that it is untouched by the drug crisis,” he said on the floor. “Even a wedding chapel. Even here, in the halls of power. … Even in my office.”

“Mr. Speaker, if we hope to defeat the deadliest drug crisis in history we will need the biggest response in history,” he added.

The legislation is now expected to be packaged and sent to the upper chamber. The Senate has also been working on opioid legislation, though it is unclear when it could see a vote there.