Opioid bills pass House

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed 18 bills intended in various ways to dampen the effects of illegal opioid drug use in the nation’s communities, but funding remains uncertain.

The bill passed last week by a vote of 400-5, a rare show of near unanimity in an era when most major legislative initiatives fade away amid differences between Democrats and Republicans.

The legislation’s provisions include more help for drug treatment programs, law enforcement and drug courts such as the one planned to open in Frederick County within a few weeks.

Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Drug Abuse Coalition, said she was especially pleased with a bill that includes help for women who abused opioids during pregnancy and struggle with the effects after giving birth.

“I know they have a bill that would improve treatment for those individuals,” Cummings said, adding that 61 infants exposed to illegal drug use in their mothers’ wombs were born at Winchester Medical Center last year.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, hailed passage of the bill, which must still be reconciled with a Senate opioid bill that passed earlier in the year.

“The Comprehensive Opioid Abuse and Reduction Act represents government at its best,” Goodlatte said in a written statement. “Not only does this bipartisan bill provide necessary resources to state and local governments to help prosecute opioid drug traffickers and help prevent opioid addiction, it also saves taxpayers’ dollars by streamlining the grant program to eliminate government waste and red tape.”

Comstock said in a written statement that heroin and other opioids have hit all socioeconomic and age groups around the nation.

“This legislation addresses education and prevention, treatment and services and interdiction of these deadly drugs,” Comstock said. “We have held forums throughout the district addressing the heroin epidemic where we have brought the community together to discuss the challenges we face and how we can coordinate services and efforts.”

Cummings called the legislation “a step in the right direction,” that still requires funding to make its provisions a reality.

Democrats have proposed $600 million for the legislation. President Obama is seeking $1.1 billion. Republicans want money spent on the legislation to be offset by cuts in other programs or revenue increases.

“Our concern at this point is that I don’t think they have allocated any money to support the bills,” Cummings said. “I feel it is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be some allocation of funding in order to implement these processes.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com