Democrats in Congress lose key round in bid for immediate anti-addiction funds; threaten filibuster that could kill the bill

Deaths from prescription overdose hit a record high in 2014

By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

Democrats are threatening to filibuster the proposed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act after a Democratic-led effort to secure nearly $1 billion in anti-opioid addiction funds failed in a congressional conference committee Wednesday.

The amendments by Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington were defeated in straight party-line votes. Republicans argue there is no need for additional spending because anti-addiction funds have already been proposed as part of the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2017 budget.

GOP committee leaders released a draft of that bill on Wednesday, which allocates $581 million to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to combat opioid and heroin abuse.

Democrats contend the drug epidemic is so urgent that more money is needed immediately. Nearly 29,000 people died from opioid overdose in the U.S. in 2014, including almost 1,100 Kentuckians.

“We have an opportunity and the clear responsibility to take life-saving action on this issue today,” Murray said in a news release. “We have a choice between preventing more of the deaths we’ve all heard too much about and allowing the status quo to continue.”

Democrats sent a letter to conference committee chair Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Tuesday threatening to oppose the CARA bill if “significant funding” is not included in the conference report.

If Democrats keep their pledge, the bill could face defeat in the Senate.

Though the measure passed in conference and has enough Republican support to push a final version through the House, a partisan split in the Senate—which would require a Republican supermajority of 60 votes to overcome a filibuster—could effectively stall the legislation.

Republicans refuse to fund the provisions in the bill without offsets from other programs that would render it budget-neutral. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cost about $1.2 billion over five years, but those numbers do not take into account possible “downstream” savings these programs could create, like decreased prison populations and fewer addicts relying on other government programs.

Without Democratic-backed funding, CARA puts just $181 million in new money toward prevention, treatment and recovery.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democrats should support the report despite their failed attempt at additional funding.

“The conference report the Senate will soon consider can make a difference for the American people,” he said in a news release. “It’s the product of years of hard work, and it’s very similar to the CARA bill that already passed the Senate with no Democrat opposition.”

The debate comes one day after the Obama administration unveiled a list of actions to fight the opioid epidemic. It includes expanding the number of patients certified doctors can treat with buprenorphine from 100 to 275. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also wants to eliminate potential financial incentives for doctors who prescribe opioids out of fear that patients will give them low marks in patient-experience surveys if they have pain after procedures.

The House is expected to cast a final vote on CARA on Friday and the Senate early next week.

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