Working Across the Aisle to Solve the Opioid Problem

Opioids can affect people from any walk of life. As the House of Representatives considers legislation to fight the opioid epidemic, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are finding a lot of common ground.

During two weeks in June, the House will devote itself largely to opioid legislation. This week, a bill I introduced called the Creating Opportunities that Necessitate New and Enhanced Connections That Improve Opioid Navigation Strategies (CONNECTIONS) Act passed the House. The bill’s lead co-sponsor was Congressman Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey and the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking member. Despite our different views on many issues, we agreed that state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs would benefit from more federal support, so we wrote a bill to do it.

I also offered an amendment on the House floor to the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act that was supported by Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. Under current law, drug producers can evade the law by slightly altering the formula for banned synthetic drugs. The SITSA Act would accelerate the process for adding synthetic drugs to the list of controlled substances, but I was concerned that the bill as written would have a chilling effect on research. Reps. Raskin and Jackson Lee joined me in the effort to fix it, which passed the House.

I am pleased that Democrats have supported my ideas, and in turn, I am happy to support good ideas offered by Democrats, as I did when I supported Rep. Jackson Lee’s amendment to the SITSA Act.

Of the 57 bills the Energy and Commerce Committee sent to the House floor last month, 56 received bipartisan support. Both Republicans and Democrats introduced the bills on the floor during the first week of opioid legislation.

A recent meeting with constituents strengthened my support for one bill in particular, the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act. I met with a group called Young Appalachian Patriots at my Abingdon office in March. A couple of them were recovering addicts who expressed to me the value of treatment centers. We didn’t agree on some of the other issues discussed that day, but I joined them wholeheartedly in wanting more treatment centers for Southwest Virginia, and commended the recovering addicts for their courage in breaking their habits.

The Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act, introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Gene Green (D-TX), presents a starting point. It would authorize some additional comprehensive treatment centers around the country with the ability to offer personalized, integrated care. I supported the bill in committee and on the House floor. While this is a pilot project that does not provide as many treatment centers as I hoped, if it succeeds, it should lead to more treatment centers in the areas of the country that need them.

The House’s action on opioid legislation marks the latest step in a long process. During my years on the Subcommittees on Health and Oversight and Investigations (O&I), opioids have been a consistent focus.

We explored the overlap between substance abuse and mental health. O&I launched a multi-year examination of “pill dumping” allegations focusing on enormous quantities of painkillers sent to some communities. This led to hearings with the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and executives of the drug distribution companies partly responsible for the pill dumping. We also met with families affected by opioids, including some who had lost children.

The bills the House acted on were results of these hearings, markups, and discussions at home and in Washington. Although there is still much more to do, it is a start.

In the Ninth District, I’ve talked with constituents, whether in formal meetings or when I am stopped on the streets or at ballgames, and participated in events dedicated to understanding and solving the opioid epidemic. This has included a roundtable convened by UVa-Wise in Galax with health officials and doctors in May and a roundtable with law enforcement sponsored by Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp in Wise County last August.

Along with Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), I also convened a roundtable on opioids in Bristol in 2016.

Everyone has a stake in ending this crisis afflicting so many of our family, friends, and neighbors. Whether we agree on all the issues or not, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and ideas.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.