House panel OKs drug-abuse bill with bipartisan support

Focus of committee's legislation is on the illegal use of opioids

By Alan Fram
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee took an election-year swipe Wednesday at the nation’s growing drug addiction problem, approving federal grants that would bolster state and local efforts against the abuse of opioid painkillers.

The bipartisan measure sailed through the Judiciary panel by voice vote. Its easy approval contrasted with recent clashes between the two parties over President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and administration efforts to win quick emergency spending to combat the zika virus and fix the lead-poisoned water supply of Flint, Michigan.

The chief focus of the Judiciary committee legislation is the illegal use of opioids, potentially addictive narcotics often prescribed as painkillers. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 500,000 people died from opioid and other drug overdoses between 2000 and 2014, including a record 47,000 in 2014.

The Judiciary committee measure would establish federal grants that state and local governments could use for their pick of law enforcement, training, treatment or prescription-drug monitoring programs to combat opioid abuse. The grants would total $103 million annually over the next five years, but the actual amounts provided would be decided by Congress in later spending legislation.

The measure was among a pile of bills House panels are considering targeting drug abuse.
Critics prefer a wider-ranging version the Senate approved last month.

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