U.S. House OKs 18 bills, but little money, to fight opioid addiction

Washington – The U.S. House of Representatives finished work Friday on a package of 18 bills aimed at fighting opioid addiction – but denied President Obama his request for $1.1 billion to confront the growing crisis.

The bills, approved with significant bipartisan support, would establish new grants at the Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services to combat what is becoming a growing social and criminal problem.

One bill would provide grants to states like Pennsylvania that have standing prescriptions at pharmacies for the opioid antidote naloxone. The program distributes the drug to those who need it for free and is financed by health insurers.

It also would establish an interagency federal panel that would establish opioid-prescribing guidelines.

But the bills do not authorize significant money for the grants, and to fund them the Obama administration would have to shift money from other programs.

The House bill must be negotiated with a bill the Senate approved in March – and which also fails to fund any new grants.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, urged House and Senate negotiators to include money to fund the new grants in a final bill.

“Families, health care workers, and local leaders throughout Connecticut simply don’t have the resources they need today to fight this terrible epidemic,” she said.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who sponsored a bill that would have provided states with $600 million in emergency funding to combat opioid addiction, said “Today, there will be votes and a lot of self-congratulatory rhetoric about the fact that we are moving on something, but remember: there is not a penny for law enforcement, for treatment, or for prevention and education.”

“In the state of Connecticut it takes four to six months to get a treatment bed,” Courtney said.

Courtney stood on the House floor with a map showing the rapid escalation of overdose deaths in the United States. There were more than 400 opioid-related deaths in Connecticut last year.

“We have an epidemic in this country which far surpasses any challenge presented by a natural disaster. If we had an attack on the homeland that took the number of lives that these maps represent – this Congress would be on fire…,” Courtney said.

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