Senate passes bipartisan bill to curb opioid crisis

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The Hill on 9/17/2018 by Jessie Hellmann

The Senate on Monday passed a bipartisan, multipronged package of 70 bills aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic, but Congress still has work to do to reach the finish line.

The package, which passed 99-1 and focuses on prevention and treatment, includes a provision President Trump endorsed on Twitter last month. It marks the most comprehensive action the Senate has taken on the crisis in more than two years.

The Senate will now have to reconcile its bill with the House’s, which passed earlier this summer.

“I think this bill represents Congress at its best,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said from the floor Monday.

“There has been no shortage of effort or genuine concern from both sides of the aisle to address this painful issue that has hurt so many American families.”

A key part of the package is the STOP Act, which would crack down on the shipment of deadly, synthetic opioids into the U.S. from other countries.

While private shippers like FedEx and UPS are required to gather data in advance on incoming, international shipments, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is not, making the agency the delivery system of choice for drug traffickers trying to ship drugs into the country, according to a congressional report released earlier this year.

The STOP Act, authored by Sen. Rob Portman (R), whose home state of Ohio is among the most hard-hit by the crisis, would require that USPS screen packages coming from overseas.

Of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, about 30,000 were attributed to the use of synthetic opioids, according to preliminary data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The package would also make a number of regulatory changes aimed at improving access to treatment for opioid use disorder and authorize federal agencies to award grants to local and state groups and municipalities fighting the epidemic.

But some advocates say much more money is needed, particularly for treatment. A spending bill passed by Congress in March directed $4.7 billion toward the crisis.

The Senate and House must now hammer out any differences between the two bills before holding a vote on the final product and shipping it off to Trump for a signature, a process that could be time-consuming.

The White House applauded the legislation in a Monday evening statement, saying Trump looks forward to seeing legislation aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic on his desk.

“This critical bipartisan legislation is a major step forward in the whole-of-government approach to combating drug demand and the opioid crisis,” the statement read.

A key provision in the House bill but not in the Senate’s would partially repeal a decades-old federal rule that prevents Medicaid for paying for care at inpatient treatment facilities with more than 16 beds.

The restriction was originally intended to prevent the warehousing of people with mental health disorders in large institutions, but has had the consequence of preventing low-income people with substance use disorders from getting care.