The House of Representatives today almost unanimously approved legislation to combat opioid overdoses after Democrats dropped their opposition to the bill at the last minute.
The 407-5 vote all but assures that the bill will sail through the Senate and head to President Obama’s desk next week. The legislation, a top priority for GOP leaders, is expected to be one of Congress’s biggest achievements this year.
Democrats, who helped shape the bipartisan opioids bill, had refused to sign off on the final report because it didn’t include new funding. While they repeatedly slammed the GOP’s bill without new funding, none would commit to voting against it on the floor.
The fight over funding had been threatening to doom the bill, surprising longtime policy watchers who expected the legislation to coast through both chambers as the country faces an epidemic of opioid overdose deaths.
One of the leaders of the opioids effort, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), called the bill “the most serious and comprehensive effort ever untaken by this body to tackle this problem.”
Gary Mendell, the founder and chief executive of Shatterproof, a New York-based anti-addiction advocacy group, had been lobbying for months to make prescription drug monitoring programs mandatory. He said he was distraught that the requirement had been eliminated, and said he also was concerned by the lack of funding. He said he did not know whether he would support the final legislation.
In a conference call with reporters this past Tuesday, administration officials emphasized that funding to expand addiction treatment was crucial to any effort to address the opioid epidemic, and said they supported Democratic efforts to insist on money for treatment now.
Michael P. Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that Republicans and Democrats had long recognized that “without additional funding and without treatment funding, we’re not going to make a dent in this issue.”
Mr. Botticelli said it was “premature” to declare whether Mr. Obama would veto the bill if it did not include additional funding. The administration has asked for $1.1 billion to fight heroin and opioid addictions.
Patrick J. Kennedy, a Democrat who is a former congressman from Rhode Island and a former addict, said that even a weak bill was worth passing.
“How can we just let a number of people die from overdoses just so we can make a political point that Republicans are wrong on funding?” Mr. Kennedy said in an interview with the NY Times.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) establishes grant programs that would expand prevention and education efforts while also promoting treatment and recovery.
Brief Summary of Provisions of CARA
- Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and aging populations—to prevent the abuse of methamphetamines, opioids and heroin, and to promote treatment and recovery.
- Expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help in the reversal of overdoses to save lives.
- Expand resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders promptly by collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders and by providing evidence-based treatment.
- Expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications to keep them out of the hands of our children and adolescents.
- Launch an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and intervention program to expand best practices throughout the country.
- Launch a medication assisted treatment and intervention demonstration program.
- Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion and to help at-risk individuals access services.