President Barack Obama is one step closer to his $1 billion wish to expand access to substance abuse treatment after the House on Wednesday approved a bill designed to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration’s medicine approval process.
By K.C. Myers
The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan version of the 21st Century Cures Act, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., who called the bill “another significant investment in the fight against heroin and prescription drug abuse and an effort to ensure that both states and providers have access to much-needed resources.”
But Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Monday on the Senate floor that she will not support the $6.3 billion legislation, arguing it would loosen regulations and put patients at risk, while benefiting the drug manufacturers who lobbied for it.
The Cures Act includes $1 billion for states over two years to provide more ways for people to get treatment for substance abuse disorders, such as addiction to heroin and other opiates. Obama had requested $1.1 billion from Congress to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act when that legislation was approved with bipartisan support in the summer. But Congress did not vote to appropriate the funding.
Michael Botticelli, the director of the National Office on Drug Control Policy, said during a teleconference Wednesday that the Cures Act will go a long way toward helping many people find treatment.
“We recognize there are some challenges that we tried to mitigate but on balance (the bill) is something we support,” Botticelli said.
Having traveled all over the country, Botticelli said the number one complaint is that people cannot find enough quality treatment for substance abuse disorders.
Only “one in nine people who need treatment have received it,” he said.
To secure money through the Cures Act, states would have to provide a plan for how they would increase access to treatment. State projects funded by the act would be monitored for effectiveness, Botticelli said.
“While not perfect, this bill will benefit numerous communities within Southeastern Massachusetts,” Keating said.
In the statement released by Keating’s office, Cape Cod Healthcare President and CEO Michael Lauf thanked Keating for supporting the bill.
“Once enacted, this legislation will provide critical resources to states and providers to directly combat the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic,” Lauf said.
But the bill loosens rules around pharmaceutical company gift-giving to doctors, so contributions made by industry representatives can be kept secret from the public, Warren said. Pharmaceutical company-sponsored junkets for doctors and industry influence on medical providers is one of the reasons opioid painkillers were so liberally dispensed for years, fueling the current opioid epidemic, which has struck hard in Massachusetts and on Cape Cod.
The 21st Century Cures Act would also make it easier for drug manufacturers to market drugs “off-label” for uses not permitted by the FDA, Warren said.
While the bill has “a lot of bad stuff,” Warren said, there are good aspects, such as a bipartisan mental health component and “very limited funding” for the national opioid crisis as well as Vice President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative.
“I support most of these proposals,” Warren said. “I’ve worked on many of them for years…But I cannot vote for this bill. I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”
The latest version of the 900-plus page legislation was released by Republican lawmakers over Thanksgiving weekend. After passing the House on Wednesday it is expected to be sent to the Senate next week, Warren said Monday.
The Massachusetts Republican Committee issued a statement Wednesday calling Warren an obstructionist.
“Senator Warren apparently thinks it’s fine to hold hostage funds for addiction treatment as long as it gets her in the spotlight, so it’s no surprise that even her allies find themselves exhausted by Warren’s obstructionism,” state GOP Committee Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said in the statement. “She is so blinded by far-left ideology that she is incapable of working across the aisle on legislation as common sense and widely supported as funding public health priorities.”
Warren’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who has sponsored and fought for legislation to curb the opioid epidemic, did not return requests for comment on the bill.
CEO of TOCCALife.com, Tyler Cornell, questioned, “Did that article say the pharmaceutical companies receive $6.5 Billion and less restrictions for doctors prescribing pills? Isn’t that how this epidemic started??”
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