Congress is on the verge of passing legislation intended to pour $1 billion into efforts to combat the scourge of the opioid epidemic, according to a report from the Huffington Post.
However, there is apparently some concern that the bill—21st Century Cures Act—has less to do with treating people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers and more with lining the pockets of Big Pharma.
In January, Republican forces in both houses put their seal of approval on the 21st Century Cures Act—a medical innovation bill focused on extending research at the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—in hopes of getting it on the books before the newly-elected Congress comes swopping in at the beginning of 2017.
The final version, which was negotiated after three years of discussion, comes with a number of provisions, including those pertaining to funding opioid prevention and loosening some of the restrictions associated with research.
The goal of this legislative scheme is to complement the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed into law over the summer by President Obama, by making funds available to target the problem—something the president’s measure failed to do.
“This funding represents an urgent investment in closing the treatment gap and ending the overdose crisis,” said Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. “States and communities struggling against the tide of opioid, heroin and fentanyl overdoses are in desperate need of federal resources.”
Over the course of the past month, Democratic lawmakers have been on a letter writing campaign, trying to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority leader Harry Reid to do what it takes to get the funding approved.
“It is our responsibility to all Americans to provide immediate funding to address the opioid epidemic before the end of the year,” reads a letter penned by U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly, Tammy Baldwin, Jeanne Shaheen and Edward Markey.
“We urge you to act immediately to ensure that Congress fulfills its commitment to the American people by providing adequate resources to help quell this epidemic in the 21st Century Cures Act,” the letter continues. “We stand ready and look forward to working with you to swiftly achieve this goal.”
But not every Democrat is keen on the way the 21st Century Cures Act has been designed.
Senator Elizabeth Warren announced on Monday that she would not be voting in favor for the bill because she feels Senate Republicans have allowed the guts of the proposal to be hijacked by Big Pharma. She even went as far as to accuse the elephants in the room of “trying to buy off Democratic votes one by one by tacking on good bipartisan proposals that senators in both parties have worked on in good faith for years.”
“This final deal has only a tiny fig leaf of funding for NIH and for the opioid crisis,” she said on the Senate floor. “And most of that fig leaf isn’t even real. Most of the money won’t be there, unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to fund those dollars. So why bother with a fig leaf in the Cures bill? Why pretend to give money to NIH or opioids? Because this funding is political cover for huge giveaways to giant drug companies.”
The proposal will be hashed out in the House on Wednesday, with the Senate scheduled to take up a vote sometime next week.
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