House leaders eye ambitious opioids package

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A House panel said Wednesday it will take up more than two dozen bills that target the opioids crisis from all sides, eyeing measures that speed painkilling alternatives to market and link ER patients with treatment after they overdose.

The Energy and Commerce Committee will also vet legislation that seeks to prevent diseases — such as HIV or hepatitis — that can result from injection-drug use, or lets doctors know if a consenting patient had a history of addiction and should avoid opioids.

Other bills are aimed at interdicting or detecting fentanyl, a synthetic opioids blamed for the recent spike in overdose deaths, and studying how many teens are using injectable drugs.

The panel will examine all 25 measures at a hearing next week.

“Collectively, these bipartisan bills have the potential to make a number of meaningful reforms to combat the opioid crisis. I look forward to a robust discussion about these proposals and working to fine tune them,” Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Full committee Chairman Greg Walden wants to put an opioids package on the House floor by Memorial Day as part of congressional efforts to put muscle behind President Trump’s push to treat opioids addiction as a public health emergency.

Opioid-related overdoses killed 42,000 people in 2016, and early estimates suggest the problem worsened in 2017 and will surpass the AIDS epidemic’s toll at its height in the mid-1990s.

Congress struck a budget agreement that provides $6 billion to fight the opioids epidemic over this year and in 2019.

It is a “record” amount of funding to combat opioids, Mr. Walden has noted, though some advocates and Democrats have pushed for more.

Committee aides said they are open to the idea of posting even more money, though for now, they’ve focusing on passing solid policy, so existing funds are spent wisely.

They will have to reconcile their efforts with the Senate, where a bipartisan group released a sequel to a 2016 opioids law, known as “CARA,” designed to direct the new batch of federal dollars toward programs that work.

Off Capitol Hill, the Justice Department has cracked down on fentanyl trafficking, while Mr. Trump has suggested in public remarks that he’d like to explore the death penalty for certain drug dealers.

The House package eyes a big role for the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates and approves drugs.

One measure would ensure that treatments for substance abuse would be eligible for programs that speed treatments through the agency’s pipeline. A bill by Rep. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican, would set data standards for companies that want to push drugs that can be used in place of opioids — and say so on their labels.

Another bill, known as “Jessie’s Law,” that would ensure that doctors have access to a consenting patient’s record of drug addiction, before prescribing treatment. It orders the Health and Human Services Department to come up with best practices for hospitals and physicians to share the information.

The bill was named for Jessie Grubb, a West Virginia native who died from opioid overdose following surgery in Michigan for a running-related injury.

Though her parents traveled to Michigan to tell doctors and hospital workers about her addiction history — she’d gotten clean and was building a new life — the discharging doctor wasn’t informed and prescribed her 50 oxycodone pills.

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