The U.S. House of Representatives has been voting on a slew of opioid-related bills–and they’re not done. The plan is to take up more than 30. Some deal with ensuring old pills are easily and safely disposed of, while others try to ensure the government has the best data on the crisis. Still, others seek to prevent drugs from flowing in through the nation’s many points of entry–whether the southern or northern borders or via a plane or ships.
Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney says the bills are necessary.
“I think they're really important, and I think we have a national crisis. And I think that it's important that you know the people's House be focused on the kinds of issues that are having such a devastating impact on communities across the country.”
While the opioid crisis is claiming as many lives a year as were lost in the entire Vietnam War, there’s a growing number of voices who fear Congress is diverting attention from other more long-standing substance abuse problems.
Senator Lisa Murkowski has another concern. “In Alaska, it’s alcohol. Has been alcohol, will be alcohol.”
As does Montana Senator Steve Daines “In Montana and among our Indian tribes, meth is more of our issue.”
Wyoming U.S. Senator Mike Enzi said this week that the opioid crisis has already eaten up a lot of time on a very packed Senate schedule.
“It's taking attention away from a lot of things. We’ve already passed seven bills that deal with the opioid crisis and we still have one. So there’s going to have to be some different kinds of solutions.”
Enzi’s not saying the opioid crisis isn’t worthy of attention from officials, but he says those officials helping stem the tide don’t necessarily have to come from Washington.
“Every problem doesn't have a federal solution. It just doesn't and that's why probably seven bills haven't worked.”
Congresswoman Cheney begs to differ with the growing number of lawmakers out west complaining about the attention the opioid crisis is getting.
“I don't think it's a distraction. I think opioids have not been as big a challenge for us right now in Wyoming as they have been in some other parts of the country. But I think it's really important you know for us to be focused on it and frankly it doesn't distract from the larger challenges that we have.”
Some critics have said the myriad of bills the House is taking up are mere window dressing because GOP leaders aren’t bringing up a massive emergency aid package that would shovel resources to the crisis immediately. But Cheney says those critics are wrong and that the House is doing important work right now.
“I do. I think we're giving more tools. I think we’re giving more tools to the community. I think that we're reflecting that some of the existing programs have got to be changed. We’ve got to have the flexibility to make sure that people are able to get the resources they need. So I think across the board we'll take a look at.”
Still, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey has a bill to infuse $45 billion into what he says is potentially the worst drug epidemic the nation has ever witnessed. He also says GOP leaders efforts to undermine so-called Obamacare and to kick people off of Medicaid shows the effort is all election year theatre.
“Most folks back home need resources. And they also don't need Medicaid expansion cut.”
But Cheney says Democrats who just want to throw money at the problem are missing the point.
“I think we have to be careful that we don't just fall into the trap of thinking more resources, more resources. We got to spend money wisely and see what we're doing now that we need to change that could help us more effectively address the crisis.”
The U.S. House will continue focusing on the opioid epidemic over the next several days, and the Senate is expected to take up its own version of opioid legislation later this summer or fall–even if many western senators are growing weary of the attention opioids are taking away from longstanding meth and alcohol problems that continue to ravage their communities.