Opi­oid cri­sis unites Democrats and GOP in call to ac­tion.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Ex­treme par­ti­san­ship is ram­pant on Capi­tol Hill, but a glim­mer of hope for co­op­er­a­tion is emerg­ing from a dark place — the pre­scrip­tion painkiller and heroin cri­sis that’s rav­aging the coun­try.

It’s an is­sue where all sides have said they want to act, though get­ting agree­ment hasn’t al­ways been smooth.

Sen. Rob Port­man, an Ohio Repub­li­can who has taken the lead on the is­sue, was only able to get five fel­low Repub­li­cans last year to sign onto his bill to root out syn­thetic opi­oids pour­ing into the U.S. through postal pack­ages from China. This year, he’s al­ready got­ten sev­eral Democrats to join him.

The most re­cent co-spon­sors from ei­ther party — Sen. David Per­due, a Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can who is staunchly pro-life and anti-gun con­trol, and Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, a Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and hero to the pro­gres­sive left — high­light the po­lit­i­cal breadth of the prob­lem and ea­ger­ness to deal with it.

An­other bill, the Stop OD Act of 2017, would au­tho­rize grants to high­light the dan­gers of opi­oids and ex­pand the use of over­dose-re­vers­ing drugs. It has more than 20 House co-spon­sors, scat­tered from Hawaii to New Hamp­shire, and roughly split be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats.

“Drug abuse is a prob­lem that af­flicts many parts of the coun­try and there­fore is some­thing that unites red and blue state leg­is­la­tors. If mem­bers can ad­dress that is­sue, it of­fers some hope of progress in other ar­eas as well,” said Dar­rell West, direc­tor of gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

The pre­scrip­tion drug and heroin epi­demic stands out be­cause it is af­fect­ing Amer­i­cans of all ages with lit­tle re­gard for race, in­come or other so­cial fac­tors. The cri­sis re­sulted in more than 30,000 over­dose deaths in 2015 alone.

The epi­demic’s wide reach prompted Congress to pass bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion last year — the Com­pre­hen­sive Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery Act — that bol­stered treat­ment and the avail­abil­ity of over­dose-re­vers­ing drugs.

But Congress strug­gled to pony up funds. Af­ter months of feud­ing, law­mak­ers agreed to ded­i­cate $500 mil­lion per year for fis­cal years 2017 and 2018. It passed just weeks af­ter the con­tentious Novem­ber elec­tion, giv­ing law­mak­ers hope that bi­par­ti­san­ship is still pos­si­ble.

With Pres­i­dent Trump calling for belt-tight­en­ing in do­mes­tic spend­ing, mem­bers of Congress are warn­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion not to fid­dle with the fund­ing.

Democrats said ef­forts to re­peal Oba­macare and pro­posed spend­ing cuts in Mr. Trump’s bud­get for the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health or Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion were par­tic­u­larly trou­bling.

“Dur­ing the cam­paign I was pleased to hear Pres­i­dent Trump talk about the need to ad­dress [the epi­demic]. It’s been dis­ap­point­ing to see him try and take away health care,” said Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen, New Hamp­shire Demo­crat, not­ing Oba­macare’s ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid had been a vi­tal con­duit to treat­ment for ad­dicts in her state.

For now, law­mak­ers are reach­ing for com­mon ground wher­ever they can find it.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mis­souri Demo­crat, reached out to New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, a Repub­li­can, af­ter Mr. Trump tapped him to lead the na­tional fight against opi­oid ad­dic­tion, say­ing “we need all hands on deck, in­clud­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials” to thwart the epi­demic.

“I hope we can take some lessons from this. It is a public health cri­sis in all of our states in ev­ery com­mu­nity, ru­ral and ur­ban,” Ms. McCaskill said Fri­day.

Ms. McCaskill made her com­ments to a re­porter just mo­ments af­ter she’d cast a vote against Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee, Judge Neil Gor­such.

That court fight — which saw Democrats mount the first ever par­ti­san fil­i­buster of a high court nom­i­nee and the GOP trig­ger the “nu­clear op­tion” to change the rules and cur­tail the use of the fil­i­buster — threat­ened to send the Se­nate to new lows of bi­par­ti­san­ship.

But Mr. Port­man said even in the midst of that, bi­par­ti­san­ship is alive and well.

“Lit­er­ally dur­ing the vote, two Democrats came over, and we talked about other leg­is­la­tion,” he said Fri­day. “We’re go­ing to con­tinue to work to­gether across party lines. We have to. That’s our job, and we have lots to do.”


Sen. Rob Port­man, Ohio Repub­li­can, has seen in­creased sup­port among Democrats for his bill to root out syn­thetic opi­oids pour­ing into the U.S. through postal pack­ages from China.

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