House Approves Bill to Curb Opioid Abuse

The U.S. House of Representatives in May passed a series of bills to fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

The Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 5046) is the centerpiece bill, which passed with a 413-5 vote. It authorizes $103 million annually in grants over the next five years to:

  • Overhaul and improve grant programs administered by the Department of Justice to reduce opioid abuse.
  • Enhance partnerships between criminal justice and substance abuse organizations.
  • Develop and expand programs that prevent, treat or respond to opioid abuse.
  • Train first responders to administer opioid reversal drugs, such as naloxone.
  • Investigate opioid distribution activities.
  • Provide alternatives to incarceration for pregnant women and parents whose children may enter the foster care system.

The bill comes more than a month after the Senate approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), a sister bill intended to reduce opioid abuse.

Although the approval saw rare bipartisan agreement, responses to the bill have been mixed. Dr. Kelly Clark, president-elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, credits the House for presenting a bill that responds to a growing crisis.

“It’s a historic day for addiction medicine that the House has recognized the emergency that is the opioid epidemic,” she told The Huffington Post. “ASAM is very grateful to the champions who have been out in the front on these issues.”

However, Senate Democrats, who asked for $600 million in funding, don’t believe enough money is invested into the bill’s programs. While the bill establishes grants, it provides no funds. In the future, federal programs must compete for funds.

The Obama administration, which asked for $1.1 billion to combat the issue, says the bill would do little to help those struggling with addiction without additional money.

Anti-drug advocates call it a necessary first step, though improvements must be made.

“It’s a very important start, but we need dollars, we need statutory changes and we need sustained focus and attention,” Robert Morrison, executive director of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, told the Chicago Tribune.

Comparing the Senate and House Bills

There are a number of similarities between the State- and House-passed bills. For example, both bills would authorize grants to aid:

  • First responder training for the administration of opioid overdose reversal.
  • Treatment alternatives to incarceration.
  • Investigative activities to fight illegal opioid distribution.
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs for state applicants.
  • Prescription drug take-back activities.
  • Youth and juvenile substance abuse programs.
  • Comprehensive opioid abuse response plans.

Both bills would expand emergency treatment, create task forces, provide assistance to pregnant women and veterans with a substance use disorder, and increase access to naloxone.

However, there are differences. For example, the House bill overlooked the focus on treatment and recovery heavily emphasized in the Senate version. Instead, the bill focused on prevention and law enforcement themes.

The significant differences lie in the funding. The House bill authorizes $103 million in grants, while the Senate bill offers $77 million.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), co-author of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, stated the important parts of the Senate bill, such as the expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs, were “left on the cutting room floor,” in a statement on his website.

The details of both bills will be addressed in a conference between the House and Senate later this year. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), co-author of the Senate bill, hopes both groups can come to a compromise and push a comprehensive bill through, per the Huffington Post.

Congress hopes to have the bill on President Obama’s desk before July.

America’s Opioid Problem

The opioid epidemic has taken the U.S. by storm.

Since 1999, the number of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled. Consequently, more than 165,000 people have died of opioid overdose in the U.S. from 1999 to 2014, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids — enough to give every American adult their own bottle. In 2014, prescription opioid medication and heroin led to more than 28,000 deaths, per the CDC.

“This problem is a problem for America,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), said, per the Chicago Tribune. “This problem has exploded.”

The bills exemplify the government’s efforts to combat a growing problem.

“This opioid epidemic is something that we have to get on top of,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a press conference. “I am very proud of the Republicans and Democrats that have come together to address this situation because this really is about people’s lives. It is about whole communities that are being torn apart. And I believe we can win this fight and we must.”

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