How NIH, FDA Became the Cool Kids in the Capitol

At a time when partisanship in Congress appears to be at an all-time high, the agencies I primarily cover—NIH and FDA— appear to be faring pretty well (I am in no way implying this is because of me, but if you’d like to think I actually have that much power, who am I to impede such misguided thoughts?).

The National Institutes of Health just came out strong in the last funding cycle, as congressional appropriators secured a $3 billion increase for the agency—the largest in at least 15 years. The Food and Drug Administration also got a more than $130 million increase above last year. The heads of both agencies clearly garnered the respect of lawmakers from both parties, which I’ve witnessed firsthand at a checkup of the 21st Century Cures law and other events.

But while money talks—and it definitely does—lawmakers also seem to be following through on Francis Collins’s and Scott Gottlieb’s requests for how to do things like combat the opioid crisis. Collins asked the Senate health committee to give the NIH what’s known as the “other transactions authority,” to accelerate research on combating a crisis that takes more than 115 lives a day.

“We could really use this now in the opioid crisis,” he told the Senate health committee back in December.

Almost exactly two months later, the heads of that committee, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), introduced a bill to do exactly that. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) followed up less than a week later for a version in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, Gottlieb has been saying forever (or at least since he’s been talking about the opioid crisis as the FDA commissioner) that he wants to look into blister packs for opioids, which he said could encourage doctors to write shorter-term prescriptions and potentially curb new addictions. He said this in October; he said it again in January; I heard him say it at an Alliance for a Stronger FDA event in February; and he’s probably said it a bunch more times. I think you get the point.

Anyway, a few days ago, Sen. Alexander announced draft legislation to allow the FDA to require blister packs for opioids. Likewise, Energy and Commerce members Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) are also working on a draft version.

You can read the story about the blister pack legislation here.

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