Bill would boost efforts to find opioid alternatives

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A bipartisan bill in the U.S. House introduced Thursday by a pair of Michigan lawmakers aims to spur research at the National Institutes of Health that could develop a painkiller that isn’t addictive.

The effort by Reps. Fred Upton and Debbie Dingell would give the NIH more flexibility in its authority to collaborate with companies to do “high impact cutting-edge” research on ways to prevent, treat and cure diseases or disorders, or research “urgently” needed options to respond to public health threats such as the opioid epidemic.

The NIH says an estimated 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and roughly 25 million suffer from chronic pain.

NIH Director Francis S. Collins said last fall his agency is working on formal partnerships with more than 30 pharmaceutical companies and academic research centers to develop non-addictive methods of managing chronic pain and innovative medications for treating opioid addiction.

Collins has asked Congress for greater flexibility to partner with companies doing such research.

Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, said it’s critical for Democrats and Republicans to work together to fight the opioid crisis, while ensuring those suffering from chronic pain continue to have access to necessary medication.

“This legislation does exactly that by expanding NIH authority to innovate and partner with new entities conducting cutting-edge medical research,” Dingell said in a statement.

Upton, a Republican from St. Joseph, noted the bill builds on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, which included $1 billion in state grants to fight opioid abuse.

“Opioid abuse and addiction doesn’t cherry-pick Republicans or Democrats. It touches us all. It’s going to take a full-team effort, and working across party lines, to finally solve this,” Upton said in a statement.

Upton and Dingell are members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Sens. Lamar Alexandar and Patty Murray, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, last week introduced a companion bill in the Senate.