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Senate Health panel approves opioid bill

The Hill logo The Hill 4/24/2018 Rachel Roubein

The Senate Health Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to send the panel's bipartisan opioid bill to the chamber's floor.

The panel held seven hearings on the opioid crisis, including one on the discussion draft of the bill introduced by Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Lawmakers touted the bipartisan process used to craft the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 aimed at combating the opioid crisis, which has shown no signs of slowing down.

Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray are posing for a picture © Provided by The Hill

"The challenge before us has sometimes been described as needing a moonshot," Alexander said during the markup. "I believe that solving the opioid crisis might require the energy of a moonshot, but ultimately, it's not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.

"I wish we could have a single blockbuster idea that an agency here could deal with and solve the problem: What we can do is take a number of steps to create an environment so that everyone ... can succeed in fighting the crisis community by community."

The bill includes more than 40 proposals from 38 different senators, Alexander said. Specifically, it includes measures attempting to make it easier to prescribe smaller packs of opioids for limited durations, spur the development of nonaddictive painkillers and bolster the detection of illegal drugs at the border.

Alexander said he expects other committees will also have ideas on how to combat the opioid epidemic, "but if we can present our framework to Senator [Mitch] McConnell, maybe this is something the Senate can move on this summer."

During the markup, the panel approved several amendments unanimously.

An amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) - which sought to impose retroactive civil fines on companies and executives that illegally marketed or distributed opioids - failed in an 8 to 15 vote.Sanders introduced similar legislation last week.

Murray said she "strongly supports" the goals of Sanders's amendment. "Companies making false claims about the addictive nature of opioids while seeking to pad their bottom line should be held accountable for their role in starting and perpetuating this crisis."

But she voiced concerns that the amendment needs "a few revisions so it doesn't undermine legitimate prescribing," in explaining her "no" vote and saying she wants to work with Sanders on the measure.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will vote on more than 60 opioid bills, beginning Wednesday afternoon. The full committee's chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), hopes to send legislation to the House floor by Memorial Day weekend.

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