Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced a deal had been reached on opioid legislation in the upper chamber. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The Senate has reached an agreement on an opioids package aimed at addressing the national epidemic that killed 72,000 Americans last year.
The deal was first announced in a tweet Thursday night by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesman, Don Stewart, who wrote that Democrats lifted a hold placed on the bill and that a floor vote was likely next week. Soon after, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — who has several bills that are part of the package including an effort to combat synthetic drugs like fentanyl — released a statement saying that the bill would be voted on next week.
The House passed another package of opioid measures in June, and the two sets of bills would need to be reconciled before becoming law. President Trump has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and on Aug. 20 urged the Senate to pass legislation that tackled the fentanyl problem specifically.
The Senate bill had stalled over Democratic objections to a grant program they said was written too narrowly to benefit only one addiction advocacy group, the Addiction Policy Forum. The organization was closely connected to PhRMA and Democrats wanted the language broadened to cover more groups. This hold up was first reported Wednesday by Politico.
Senators had been working all summer to reach a deal on opioid legislation, which has emerged as a rare bipartisan priority ahead of November’s midterm elections. Trump increased the pressure by tweeting that they must pass the Portman-sponsored bill on shipments of illicit fentanyl through the international postal system.
“It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT — and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!”
Health-care industry experts expressed concern earlier this summer that politics could disrupt the bill’s chances, noting that McConnell may not want to give red state Democrats a chance to support something advantageous to their voters. But in announcing the vote next week, Stewart took a shot at those skeptics,
“Now that the Dem holds have been lifted,” he wrote in an email, “the Majority Leader, despite the assertions by the uninformed, anonymous sources, has sked (sic) a vote on the bill for next week.”
The bill, in addition to stopping the inflow of synthetic drugs, authorizes and expands programs for prevention, treatment and recovery. It allows the National Institute of Health to research new, non-addictive painkillers.
Regina LaBelle, a public policy consultant who served as chief of staff and policy adviser at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama administration, commended the lawmakers for moving the bill forward.
“It emphasizes emphasizes prevention, making sure we have more people who can treat people with addiction and it supports people in recovery, it does reflect what the science tells us,” she said. “There’s always more than can be done, but in an election year, I think this is pretty good. I really do appreciate there’s an effort being made to have a bipartisan solution.”