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Omnibus could take big step on addiction treatment

Illustration of a gavel made of a pill bottle, touching a gavel rest made of a white pill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The latest candidate for lame-duck action is a bill to increase access to treatment for opioid addiction — which has a good chance of passing in the omnibus this month, congressional aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: We all know about the crisis of opioid overdose deaths — and advocates point to data from SAMHSA showing only 1 in 10 people with opioid use disorder receive medication for it.

How it works: The bill would remove a requirement that health care providers get a special waiver from the DEA before they can prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, helping increase access to the treatment.

What they're saying: Rep. Paul Tonko, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, told Axios he is "very confident" it will make the omnibus. "Leadership is working hard to get it done," he said, calling the bill a "lifesaver."

  • Nearly 200 organizations sent a letter to Congress this week urging passage, including the National Association of Counties, American Medical Association and National Sheriffs' Association.
  • "We have come together to ask you to act on the overdose crisis now," the letter states. "By passing the MAT Act, you have the opportunity to increase access to a treatment that can open the doors of healing and recovery to millions."

The path forward: Backers say they have not encountered a large amount of opposition, but there is still a lot of uncertainty around how big the end-of-year package will be and what will make it in.

  • And there is at least some opposition from certain House Republicans, including members who are doctors, like Rep. Larry Bucshon. Bucshon said earlier this year that the bill is "making it easier to prescribe a medication known to be highly diverted and misused."
  • At least at the moment, though, backers do not think the opposition will be enough to stop it from making it into the bill.
  • The list of cosponsors in the Senate includes members from across the ideological spectrum, including Maggie Hassan, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and Marsha Blackburn.

In the House, Rep. Mike Turner is leading the effort with Tonko.

  • Chris Krepich, a spokesman for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it is a priority for her to get the House's mental health package, which includes the MAT Act, passed and signed into law in this Congress.
  • The package got over 400 votes in the House earlier this year.
  • "Overwhelmingly we're hearing support instead of opposition," said Reyna Taylor, a senior vice president at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
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