House Passes Huge Opioids Bill

The House passed a massive opioids bill Friday to expand treatment options, stem the flow of deadly fentanyl into the U.S. and reduce the number of addictive pills in circulation, setting the stage for Senate action and President Trump’s signature. Approved 396-14, the measure packaged more than 50 individual bills and offered a minute of Capitol Hill comity amongst bitter fights over immigration policy and social safety-net programs.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden said the bipartisan effort signals that Congress is serious about reversing the prescription painkiller and heroin crisis, even if the latest bill isn’t a cure-all. “We will be at this for a while longer,” Mr. Walden, Oregon Republican, said. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy cast the bill in personal terms, recounting how his press secretary’s brother died of an opioid overdose, while the White House said it supported its own effort to treat opioids abuse as a public health emergency.

“President Donald J. Trump and his Administration’s ongoing work to tackle this important issue could not be possible without complementary legislation from our allies in Congress,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Opioid overdoses killed more than 42,000 Americans in 2016, and the official 2017 tally will probably be much worse, making the crisis a bigger killer than the HIV/AIDS epidemic at its height.

House leaders expect the Senate to consider the package, which hits pause on Medicaid-payment limits for drug treatment at certain facilities, creates a web-based “dashboard” of nationwide efforts and strategies to combat the opioid crisis and links overdose victims with follow-up treatment. It also requires the U.S. Postal Service to demand advanced electronic data on every package from foreign posts by 2021, so customs agents can better target shipments of deadly synthetic opioids from overseas, particularly China.

Other changes would help infants who were born to addicted mothers and suffer from withdrawal, educate kids and seniors alike about the potential risks of opioids use and support laboratories that test drugs for traces of fentanyl, which can kill heroin users in small amounts and poses a danger to law enforcement officers.

The House package costs $3 billion, a price-tag that comes on top of the roughly $4 billion that Congress threw at the opioids problem in a major spending bill earlier this year. The legislation is paid for, however — mainly through changes that return money to Medicaid by allowing states to keep a greater amount of rebate dollars.

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