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WASHINGTON — A key Senate panel approved a health funding bill Tuesday that would nearly double the federal support for fighting the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The 2017 funding bill unveiled by Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Patty Murray of Washington, who head the subcommittee that oversees health spending, would increase spending for addressing opioid abuse to $261 million. That’s up $126 million from last year, a 93 percent increase.


The proposal would boost funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prescription drug overdose program by $28 million and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment and prevention programs by $49 million.

The new opioid spending would follow a 300 percent increase last year, Blunt said. The bill now goes to the full Senate Appropriations Committee, which is expected to approve it on Thursday.

The increased funding would be for the fiscal year that begins in October.


The legislation comes at a time of rising bipartisan concern over the opioid epidemic. Opioid overdoses killed more than 28,000 people in the United States in 2014. More than half of those deaths were linked to prescription drugs. Four in 10 Americans said in a recent STAT-Harvard poll that they knew someone who had abused prescription drugs in the last five years.

“I know that all of us represent communities that have been hit and devastated by this crisis,” said Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. “We have a responsibility to act.”

The proposal is “a step in the right direction,” she added — but she also reiterated support for an emergency funding bill to supply even more money to deal with the problem.

In March, Senate Republicans rejected $600 million in emergency funding proposed by Democrats when the chamber was debating a more comprehensive bill to address the opioid epidemic.

“The scope of this epidemic is enormous,” Baldwin said, “and I continue to believe we must do more.”

Blunt, however, noted that, between the new proposal and last year’s funding boost, “the increase is almost 600 percent. It’s hard to find a government agency that can spend more money than that in an effective way.”

“This doesn’t have to be the last thing we do,” he said. “But it certainly does show a continued commitment toward providing the funds necessary to deal with this.”

The overall proposed spending for the US Department of Health and Human Services would be $76.9 billion under the bill. The highlight for many members was a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health, the second year in a row that the agency would see its spending raised by that amount.

Alzheimer’s disease research would see a $400 million increase, and the National Cancer Institute’s spending would grow by $216.3 million. The Precision Medicine Initiative would receive an additional $100 million, as would the BRAIN Initiative, and there would be a $50 million increase for fighting antibiotic resistance.

“One of the goals we would like to establish is a pattern of increasing in what we’re doing in health research,” Blunt said, “until there’s no reason for health research to be done.”

One topic notably absent from the discussion was the Obama administration’s cancer moonshot initiative, for which the White House requested $755 million. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who’s the chairman of the Senate health committee and also sits on the appropriations panel, said during Tuesday’s meeting that his panel would continue to work on providing support for that effort.

Matt Ganem, a former addict, explains the excruciating process of opioid withdrawal. Alex Hogan/STAT