Jul 7, 2016

As Overdoses Surge, Leading House Democrats Backpedal From Prior Support of Opioid Solution

With yesterday’s meeting of House and Senate conferees on the opioid epidemic, reform is one step closer to providing urgent relief to every community in crisis.

The package of opioid related bills received near-unanimous bipartisan support when it went through the committee process in April and cleared the full House in May. It continues to be recognized by leading advocates across the country as “the critical response we need.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the negotiating table. Democrats in the House and Senate who proudly supported the effort suddenly switched course. Despite the fact that the entire House package of bills is included in this conference report, many Democrats have threatened to vote against the package and refused to sign the conference report filed yesterday.

The only thing that’s changed since the bills passed both chambers is that the situation has grown more urgent and overdoses are surging. There is no excuse for Congressional Democrats’ about-face on this opioid legislation.

WHAT THEY’VE SAID: Here’s what leading House Democrats who refused to sign the conference agreement yesterday said on the floor a little over 8 weeks ago:

Representative Frank Pallone (NJ-06): “I’m pleased to support the package of opioid legislation that we are considering today because it takes steps towards that approach. This bill incorporates proven public health approaches to fight against the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis. It improves the tools available to prescribers to prevent opioid abuse and the development of opioid use disorder.”

Representative John Sarbanes (MD-03): “I am pleased to say, this is a bipartisan issue affecting virtually every part of the country and I’m pleased as well, to note that the bill received unanimous support in the energy and commerce committee. I urge support of this bill today because i know it will save lives and help begin to stem the tide of this terrible epidemic.”

Representative Gene Green (TX-29): “I remain committed to working with my colleagues to expand access to this important evidence-based treatment as we move to conference with the senate.”

Representative Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03): “Too many people are suffering, and too many people are being shut out from access to help. This bill helps address this by creating a demonstration project and the existing pregnant and postpartum grant program to allow grants to be used for nonresidential care.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18): “I’m glad that this bill, why I rise to support it, re-authorizes residential treatment, grant programs for pregnant and postpartum women who have substance abuse problems that are administered by the health and human service department center for substance abuse treatment.”

So what changed? There’s no explanation. Your guess is as good as mine.

To read the Joint Explanatory Statement on the opioid reform legislation and relief it offers to communities in crisis, click HERE.