Anti-opioid abuse bill backed by Upton clears House

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. House approved Friday an agreement between itself and the U.S. Senate on bipartisan legislation intended to reduce the amount of national opioid and heroin abuse.

The measure, a top priority for House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, “authorizes the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to address the national epidemics of addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, and makes various other changes to Federal law to combat opioid addiction and abuse,” according to a legislative summary released by earlier this week.

The agreement on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was approved by the House on 407-5 vote. The measure will have to be approved by the Senate before it can be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for final approval.

Upton, Michigan’s top-ranking congressional Republican, said the measure to address addictions to drugs like opioids and heroin is long overdue.

“We’re in the midst of an opioid crisis that has no boundaries and does not discriminate. In Michigan, we are enduring 10 times as many deaths today as there were 15 years ago. And sadly, the numbers continue to surge,” the St. Joseph lawmaker said in a statement. “We owe this effort to the past, present and, sadly, future victims of the opioid epidemic — our neighbors, friends, and family, across every part of the country and every demographic group.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he plans to try to move the measure next week.

Advocates for victims of opioid addictions have urged Congress to approve the measure to address the nation’s drug epidemic.

“Only through a comprehensive response can we reverse current trends and provide individuals and families impacted by addiction with the services they need,” a group of 200 advocacy organizations wrote to lawmakers in a July 6 letter.

“As you know, 129 Americans die each day as a result of drug overdose and this epidemic affects the public health and safety in every community across the country,” the letter continued. “This bill is the critical response we need.”

Democrats have complained that Republican House and Senate leaders have refused to add more funding to the opioid measure.

“Everyone who has spent any time looking at this issue understands that additional resources are necessary in the form of hospital beds and public health professionals to treat this problem,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing with reporters this week. “Thousands of Americans are in need of assistance. And passing a bill that is doing little more than paying lip service to the problem falls woefully short of Congress’s basic responsibility.”

Earnest added: “If there is a bill that reaches the president’s desk that is geared toward fighting the opioid epidemic but doesn’t include any funding, I certainly cannot promise that the president would sign it.”

Senate Republicans sought to pressure Senate Democrats to accept the opioid measure.

“Far too many Americans know the toll the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic is taking on our families, our communities and in each of our states,” McConnell said in a statement.

“... I hope Senate Democrats join us in this bipartisan effort, just as they did a few months ago. This issue is too important to be caught up now in partisan politics.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing