Senate Passes Anti-Opioid Addiction Bill

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By Nathaniel Weixel

July 13 — Anti-opioid addiction legislation easily passed the Senate July 13, giving Republican leaders a major bipartisan victory.

The Senate passed the conference report to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) by a vote of 92-2. The legislation had bipartisan support, but Democrats had threatened to oppose the bill over its lack of guaranteed funding.

The legislation authorizes—but doesn't appropriate—$181 million in grants to states for opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities. The grants also would increase the availability of the anti-overdose drug naloxone and authorize programs to monitor physicians' prescribing practices.

The opioid legislation is a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and gives Republican Senate and House leaders an election-year, bipartisan victory on a major issue of concern to voters. It's also a victory for vulnerable lawmakers in swing states hit hard by the addiction and overdose crisis.

“At a time when drug overdoses claim 129 American lives every day, it’s painfully clear that we need to do more now,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That’s why this Senate majority has made passing this comprehensive response a priority.”

Democrats: Funding Needed

Democrats said the measure still doesn’t provide the money necessary to fully address the opioid crisis, and said they may attempt to seek the funds when the Senate returns to work on appropriations measures in September.

“Getting those proposals off the ground is a first step, but the Senate is about to head home and put off the issue of funding to a later date. Nobody should be celebrating until the Congress finishes the job in the appropriations process,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a July 13 floor speech.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) praised the bill's provisions, but said new money is needed to make the provisions effective.

“Authorizing new programs, which this bill does, is good, but not good enough,” Durbin said on the Senate floor. “We need to make an investment. We need to put taxpayers' dollars behind this commitment to end this epidemic, and it's needed now.”

Lawmakers tried to add $600 million to the legislation as it was moving through both the House and Senate, as well as $920 million during the conference committee. Republicans have promised hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriated funds to combat the prescription opioid abuse epidemic, including $581 million that was in the proposed fiscal year 2017 Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

The House passed the conference report by a vote of 407-5 (132 HCDR, 7/11/16).

The support of Democrats in the House made it much easier for Senate Democrats to work with Republicans to pass the bill and send it to President Barack Obama before leaving for an extended summer recess. A conference committee completed work on the report July 6 (130 HCDR, 7/7/16).

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

For More Information

The conference report is at http://src.bna.com/gMe.

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