- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2016

House GOP leaders returning from Easter break say they have a strategy for tackling the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic that’s ravaging the country, though a key senator is urging them to work fast, noting his chamber sent them a bill that’s “ready to go.”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said his troops have penned several bills to bolster treatment for the addicted, including babies who suffer from withdrawal because their mothers abused opioids, while cracking down on the illicit drug trade and prescribing habits that put too many painkillers on the street.

Mr. McCarthy said relevant committees will hold markups this month, so he can bring the bills to the floor by May.

“The House’s goal is simple. We want to build on efforts to prevent addiction and treat those suffering, crafting legislation that will gather bipartisan support and get signed into law,” Mr. McCarthy wrote in an op-ed for Independent Journal Review. “The president’s own proposals to combat opioid addiction demonstrate that there is ample opportunity to reach a bipartisan consensus, and the Senate’s recent work to combat opioid addiction shows bicameral legislative interest.”

The Senate last month passed its bill to combat the epidemic, 94 votes to 1, a margin that put pressure on the House to act swiftly.

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican who co-wrote the bill, said the bill is bipartisan and well-researched, so the House better not slow-walk its own efforts.

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“I hope that the talk of hearings and markups isn’t an excuse to delay action,” Mr. Portman, who faces reelection this year, said in a recent floor speech. “Because, let me just say to my friends in the House, respectfully, the Senate has made your job a lot easier. We have already done the hard part.”

Portman spokesman Kevin Smith said in the coming weeks, the senator “is going to be very visible in demanding action in the House.”

Mike Long, a spokesman for Mr. McCarthy said the House is poring over the Senate bill, not ignoring it, while it polishes its own legislation.

“There a number of House members who have been working on this issue for years given the impact it has had on their districts and constituents,” he said, noting they will conference with the Senate on legislation that President Obama can sign into law this spring.

The administration and Congress have become increasingly alarmed by the opioid crisis, which is causing more deaths than car crashes do in some parts of the country. And it is striking every corner of the U.S. with no regard to age, gender or socioeconomic status.

Unintentional overdose deaths from prescription painkillers nearly quadruped from 1999 to 2013, and heroin-related deaths increased 39 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

The Senate bill would promote therapeutic alternatives to opioids while increasing treatment options and disbursing naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Republicans rejected a bid for $600 million in emergency funding to combat the crisis, saying they’ve already appropriated enough funds, though leading Democrats and the White House say they’ll continue to push for more money.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama recently proposed a series of steps to save addicts who’ve been swept up by the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, from allowing doctors to perform medication-based treatment on more patients to increasing the use of naloxone.

Rep. Robert Dold, Illinois Republican, said he, too, is pushing a bill that would expand access to the overdose-reversing drug, noting it saved 70 lives in a community north of Chicago in just over a year.

“Soon, the House will act to end the cycle of opioid abuse,” Mr. Dold said Saturday in the weekly Republican address. “The Senate has already passed a good bipartisan bill to combat this epidemic. And the president has put forth his ideas as well. So there is common ground for action.”

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