House to Begin Hearings on the Opioid Crisis

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House Republicans will begin hearings next week as the first step in an effort to pass bipartisan bills tackling the opioid crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports. A plan from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold the first hearing Feb. 28, will likely require additional funding. Bills to be considered will focus on law enforcement, public health and prevention, and insurance coverage issues. “It’s my top priority… to get rid of this deadly epidemic,” said Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R.-OR). “There’s going to be money—more money than has ever been spent.” Lawmakers seek to push a measure through the House by the end of May. Republican committee leaders are talking with Democrats and the Trump administration about the initiative and have had a positive response, Walden said.

The legislative drive could get significant attention because Congress and the administration have faced criticism for not providing a comprehensive strategy, or enough money, to tackle opioids. Democrats and public health experts criticized President Trump’s declaration in October that the opioid epidemic is a “public health emergency” because it wasn’t accompanied by additional funding. Some health care activists say the drug industry, which contributes heavily to lawmakers’ campaigns, has prevented Congress from doing more. A bipartisan budget deal that passed this month would direct $6 billion over two years for opioid abuse treatment and mental health, although public health experts have said the amount falls short of what’s needed to address the problem. The first hearing will examine law enforcement, including a bill from Rep. John Katko (R-NY) that would make it easier for certain offshoots of synthetic drugs to be categorized as controlled substances. The legislation has been opposed by civil rights groups that say it would result in harsh minimum prison sentences.

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