House passes comprehensive bill to combat growing opioid epidemic

PHOTO: OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2013.PlayToby Talbot/AP FILE
WATCH As Drug Overdose Deaths Escalate, Opioids Continue to Be the Top Killer

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan, comprehensive bill Friday that aims at curbing the country’s growing opioid epidemic.

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By a vote of 396-14, the House passed H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients Communities Act, which is the collective product of the lower chamber’s extensive effort this year to combat the opioid crisis.

The bill contains several Medicaid, Medicare, and public health reforms, such as adding a review of current opioid prescriptions and screening for opioid use disorder as part of the Welcome to Medicare initial examination. It also aims at reducing the trafficking of Chinese fentanyl into the United States by giving law enforcement new tools to detect suspicious packages in the mail.

PHOTO: U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (L) speaks as Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan listens during a news conference on June 20, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (L) speaks as Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan listens during a news conference on June 20, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The measure was crafted by Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, who called it “the biggest effort” Congress has taken to address opioids.

During debate on the bill Friday morning, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke passionately about the issue – highlighting the story of his press secretary, Erin Perrine, whose brother Eamon Callanan died of a drug overdose two years ago.

“Erin was 24 days from her wedding when she learned she would never see her brother again—that he would not be there to celebrate with her on one of the happiest days of her life,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “Let that be a lesson to us all: There is no event so joyful, no place so safe, that it is untouched by the drug crisis. Even a wedding chapel. Even here, in the halls of power. Even in my office.”

PHOTO: Zach Gibson/Getty ImagesZach Gibson/Getty Images
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

The House had already passed a bevy of pieces of legislation that address opioid abuse, but this bill combines them into one measure that will operate as the legislative vehicle to send a package to the Senate.

In the Senate, all three committees of jurisdiction working on a companion package have reported their bills and leaders believe the package is ready for the full Senate to consider.

“The relevant chairmen and the Democrat ranking members and others are working on setting up an agreement for floor consideration,” Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said. “All three of the committees reported their bills with wide bipartisan support. The Leader is obviously a strong supporter of the bills we’ve passed and the bills that are coming to the floor.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders applauded the House for passing the bill, and urged the Senate to follow suit.

"These necessary bills will help save American lives through prevention and education, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement and interdiction, Sanders stated. "We look forward to continuing our work with Congress on a problem that affects everyone and that should be solved by everyone. We urge the Senate to continue the bipartisan tradition of helping Americans who are affected by the crisis, to swiftly pass the legislation from the House, and to get these lifesaving bills to the President’s desk. Enacting this legislation will be another step in our long but worthwhile effort to ameliorating and then ending this crisis once and for all."

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