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House starts 2-week blitz on tackling opioid abuse

WASHINGTON -- The House on Tuesday dove into a two-week vote-a-thon on dozens of bills aimed at opioid abuse, as lawmakers try to tackle a crisis that's killing tens of thousands of people a year.

A handful of the measures are contentious, including one Republican bill that would create new criminal penalties for making or trafficking certain synthetic drugs containing fentanyl. The powerful opioid can be made illegally and is taking a growing toll. Democrats say the legislation would give the government unfettered power to decide which drugs would be banned, without scientific input.

Most of the 39 bills scheduled for votes this week and dozens more next week are modest and bipartisan -- testament to the deadly toll the problem is inflicting in Democratic- and Republican-majority areas alike.

They include one allowing the government to repay up to $250,000 in student loans for some drug treatment workers who agree to serve in areas with especially severe problems. Others would prod health care providers to prominently display in their records when a patient has substance abuse problems and create grants to help hospitals open opioid treatment centers with a wide variety of services.

Congress would have to provide money for the new programs in later bills -- a difficult task, even for popular programs, with annual federal deficits expected to soon surpass $1 trillion.

Nearly 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, including about two-thirds whose deaths involved opioids, according to the most recent figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids that year, mostly by abusing prescription pain relievers.

West Virginia had the highest death rate from drug overdoses in 2016, with Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania close behind.

A Section on 06/13/2018

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