The two incumbent congressmen battling for the new 17th Congressional District seat both had opioid-related bills pass the U.S. House on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12, Sewickley, saw his Reauthorizing and Extending Grants for Recovery from Opioid Use Programs (REGROUP) Act pass on a voice vote while U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-18, Mount Lebanon, had his and a Republican colleague’s Improving the Federal Response to Families Impacted by Substance Use Disorder Act pass in a 409-8 vote.
Rothfus’ legislation reauthorizes the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice through 2023 and more than triples its annual funding from $103 million to $330 million.
The funding supports programs such as training for first responders, veterans treatment courts, drug courts, prescription drug monitoring program implementation and expanded sharing of information among agencies.
In House floor comments, Rothfus told fellow lawmakers that “the opioid crisis is still a huge problem that continues to destroy lives, hurt families and plague entire communities” in his district.
“While we have made some progress, there is much more work to be done,” Rothfus said. “Therefore, we must not only continue to support the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program, but enhance it with additional funding.”
He also highlighted veteran treatment courts in Beaver and Allegheny counties, saying they “provide alternative justice systems where those who suffer from addiction and who run afoul of the law can actually receive the care, treatment and intervention they need.”
Lamb and U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisc., introduced their bill on May 21. It creates an interagency task force to identify, evaluate and recommend ways how the federal government can better coordinate responses to the opioid crisis.
“Heroin and opioid addiction is a crisis in western Pennsylvania, and I’m glad we’re doing something about it this week in Congress,” Lamb, a member of the House’s Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, said in a statement.
“Our bill will create a federal task force focused on improving the government’s response to this crisis and ensures that we are learning from the experts on the front lines of this fight in our communities,” Lamb said. “We can’t put an end to the heroin epidemic in one week, but we are working together and getting things done this week, and passing this bipartisan bill is another step in the right direction.”
Lamb’s reference to “getting things done this week” was echoed by Rothfus in a subsequent interview Thursday during which he said there is expected to be 70 pieces of opioid-related legislation voted on, building upon previous sweeping legislation such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.
The week’s work reflects a three-point approach prevention/enforcement, treatment and recovery, Rothfus said. His Coordinated Overdose and Drug Epidemic Response to the Emergency Declaration (CODE RED) Act, which would set benchmarks to better track anti-drug grants and increase accountability, could go to a House vote next week.
Those fighting the epidemic every day can expect $1 billion in additional state grant funding this fall, he said. “The resources are coming,” Rothfus said. “There is no cheap solution to what we’re dealing with.”