House approves most sweeping bill yet to fight opioid addiction

By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |  June 22, 2018 at 2:12 PM
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June 22 (UPI) -- The House overwhelmingly passed a broad bipartisan bill on Friday -- its largest effort to date to fight the national opioid crisis.

The bill, a combination of 58 individual bills already approved by the House in the past two weeks, passed by a vote of 396-14.

Several of the measures were sponsored by Republicans facing uphill battles in re-election races, and the passage of the bill could help their chances, The Hill reported. Democrats were unsuccessful in adding $1 billion per year to fight opioid addiction to the bill. That measure was defeated largely along party lines.

Democrats said the bill places excessive focus on research and not enough on immediate solutions for those in need of treatment. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the leading Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill makes "incremental changes to support those affected by the opioid crisis" but "does not adequately deal with the magnitude of the crisis that this country is facing."

Democrats noted that the bill gives housing assistance to those with substance abuse issues at the expense of other needy people, including domestic abuse victims.

Other provisions include removal of limits on prescribing buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. It also requires healthcare professionals to write Medicare prescriptions electronically, to better track them and to allow Medicare to cover treatment at treatment clinics. It gives the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Postal Service more opportunity to crack down on synthetic drug sales and their entry into the United States.

Notably, it requires that medical records include a patient's addiction history. Known as Jesse's Law, it is named for Jessie Grubb, who died from an overdose after she was prescribed opioids by a doctor unaware of her seven-year addiction history.

Privacy advocates have suggested the measure could keep opioid addicts from seeking treatment if information on their condition can be leaked to law enforcement.

The vote Friday followed several months of debate in the House and was lauded for its bipartisan backing.

"At a time when it seems we couldn't be more divided, it's clear that striking back against addiction is something that transcends politics and brings us together as a community, as a country and as a Congress," said Greg Walden, R-Ore., House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman and leader of the bill.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

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