House Overwhelmingly Passes Opioid Abuse Bill

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Political Health

On July 8, the House approved an agreement between itself and the Senate on bipartisan legislation intended to tackle the burgeoning opioid crisis in America.

Following the 407-5 vote, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) is expected to move quickly through the Senate and head to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

One of the leaders of the effort, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, called the bill “the most serious and comprehensive effort ever undertaken by this body to tackle the problem.” [1]

He said:

“We are in the midst of an opioid crisis that has no boundaries and does not discriminate.

Today’s overwhelming bipartisan vote of 407-5 underscores the urgency, and I hope the Senate will swiftly follow suit. We must all come together, and get the job done. What we are doing will help save lives.”

The CARA bill would establish federal grant programs to provide states with more money to train first responders on opioid overdoses, increase access to overdose treatment, and develop alternatives to incarceration for opioid addicts, among other policies. [2]

It was unclear whether the legislation would be approved as late as Thursday because Democrats said the bill failed to provide enough funding for treatment. They had initially refused to sign off on the final report.

But just before the vote, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced he had decided to support the package “after much thought.” [1]

Pallone said:

“It is not perfect, and does not do nearly enough from a funding perspective, but it makes some important steps that will allow us to begin to address the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting our nation.”

Republican Leaders had voted down an additional $920 million in funding.

President Obama had proposed $1.1 billion in funding, which was not reflected in the CARA bill passing on Friday. Disagreements remain over how much the bill should be funded, with talk of funding closer to $500 million. [3]

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing last week:

“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.

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.” [4]

The Senate already approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in March.

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

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to the American Association of Addiction Medicine. In 2014 alone, there were 47,055 fatal drug overdoses. Of that number, 18,893 deaths were related to prescription painkillers, while 10,574 were related to heroin.

However, it was announced in May that the number of opioid prescriptions had finally started dropping for the first time since 1996, when OxyContin hit the market.


[1] The Hill

[2] RT

[3] Forbes

[4] The Detroit News