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Sen. Doug Jones co-sponsors bipartisan legislation to address opioid crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones delivers a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 21, 2018. (CSPAN)

Tuesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennesee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), which was composed of 40 different proposals, and is the result of seven bipartisan hearings over several months, and feedback from the public.

Jones’ office said that the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S. 2680) will improve the ability of the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address the crisis, including the ripple effects of the crisis on children, families, and communities, and improve data sharing between states.

“Many communities in Alabama and across our country are struggling to combat the opioid epidemic, and alleviate the harm it has caused to families and to our economy,” said Senator Jones. “I’m proud of the comprehensive, bipartisan efforts led by my HELP Committee colleagues to confront this issue with the urgency that it deserves. I’m also grateful that they agreed to incorporate the bipartisan bill I introduced recently with my colleagues Senators Tim Kaine and Todd Young, which would integrate job training into addiction recovery programs. We have more work ahead, but this is a strong step in the right direction.”

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Alabama has more active opioid prescriptions than it has people. There is more prescription opioid abuse in Alabama than in any place in the country. Doctors remain immune from prosecution, under state law, for their role in aiding and abetting, and in some cases encouraging opioid addiction. The Alabama Medical Association has vigorously opposed legislation that would allow prosecutors to pursue doctors and pharmacists who abuse their prescribing authority.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will:

Authorize the Department of Labor to provide grants to address the economic and workforce impacts for communities affected by the opioid crisis, targeted at workforce shortages for the substance use and mental health treatment workforce, and to align job training and treatment services.

Reauthorize and improve grants to states and Indian Tribes for prevention, response, and treatment of the opioid crisis, authorized in 21st Century Cures, for three more years.

Spur development and research on of non-addictive painkillers, and other strategies to prevent, treat, and manage pain and substance use disorders through additional flexibility for the NIH.

Clarify FDA’s regulatory pathways for medical product manufacturers through guidance for new non-addictive pain and addiction products.

Encourage responsible prescribing behavior by clarifying FDA authority to require packaging and disposal options for certain drugs, such as opioids to allow a set treatment duration, for example “blister packs,” for patients who may only need a 3 or 7 day supply of opioids, and give patients safe disposal options.

Improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, through stronger FDA and Customer Border Protection coordination.

Clarify FDA’s post-market authorities for drugs, such as opioids, which may have reduced efficacy over time, by modifying the definition of an adverse drug experience to include such situations.

Provide support for states to improve their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and encourage data sharing between states so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance misuse.

Strengthen the health care workforce to increase access to mental health services in schools and community-based settings and to substance use disorder services in underserved areas.

Authorize CDC’s work to combat the opioid crisis, including providing grants for states, localities, and tribes to collect data and implement key prevention strategies.

Address the effects of the opioids crisis on infants, children, and families, including by helping states improve plans of safe care for infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and helping to address child and youth trauma.

Improves treatment access to patients by requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue regulations on how qualified providers can prescribe controlled substances in limited circumstances via telemedicine.

Allow hospice programs to safely and properly dispose of unneeded controlled substances to help reduce the risk of diversion and misuse.

S. 2680, The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 Legislation is the result of 7 bipartisan hearings on opioid crisis with FDA, NIH, CDC, SAMHSA, governors, experts, and families. The legislation combines 40 different proposals to try to address the opioid crisis into one bill, mostly from members of the Senate Health Committee.

“No matter where I go in Washington state, I hear from families about how devastating the opioid crisis has been to their lives and to their community,” Senator Murrat said. “I’m grateful to members on both sides of the aisle for their strong work on the policies in our bill, which will offer families and communities in Washington and across the country much-needed tools and resources as they continue working to stop this epidemic and rebuild. The work isn’t over, and I look forward to more bipartisan progress in support of everyone on the frontlines of the opioid crisis looking to Congress for support.”

“Our goal is to move urgently, effectively, and in a bipartisan way,” Sen. Alexander said. “This is a broad-based set of 40 different proposals to address the opioid crisis. The bill could help states and communities begin to bring an end to the opioid crisis by reducing the number of prescription opioids, stopping illegal drugs at the border, and accelerating research on non-addictive pain medicines. We will consider and seek to approve this bill next Tuesday, so we can get it to the Majority Leader and to the Senate for prompt consideration, along with other important proposals that may be coming from other committees.”

Deaths from drug overdoses have soared in recent years and now exceeds murder and automobile accidents combined. 62,469 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 al one, which is more than died in the entire Vietnam War. That is up from just 16,849 in 2000. That does not include addicts who commit suicide or people killed by violence in the drug trade.

Doug Jones was elected to the U.S. Senate on December 12.

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Byrne, Brooks call on Mueller to “wrap up” investigation

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accomplished very little and said it is time to wrap up the investigation.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said that the investigation should not continue past July.

Congressman Byrne said, “It has been one year since Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian collusion related to the 2016 presidential election and very little has been accomplished. It is time for Mr. Mueller to wrap up his investigation.

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On Thursday, Representative Brooks went on CSPAN.

“I just want him to do his job,” Brooks said on TV. “Finish it. We cannot have this ongoing for years and years and years. It’s a distraction to our country. It interferes with our ability to address a lot of serious policy challenges that we face, and that’s in Congress. Imagine what it’s like in the White House where you’re having to look over your shoulder, where you have the FBI that is doing – you know if something was wrong, you’ve had two years now come July 5th that the FBI has been involved. Do your job. Finish it.”

“Mr. Mueller has a large team of lawyers and has spent millions of dollars over the past year, yet there still is no indication of illegal Russian collusion,” Byrne said. “While this constant drama of targeted leaks and far-flung investigations may be good for the national news media and liberal fundraising, it is not good for our country.”

The CSPAN host asked Brooks: “Robert Mueller appointed by Rod Rosenstein a year ago today on May 17th, 2017. Since then, 19 people including four Trump associates and three companies have been indicted from his investigation, five have pled guilty, 13 of those who have been charged are Russians accused of meddling in the elections. You were a former prosecutor in the Tuscaloosa DA’s office before…”

Brooks: “And the Madison County District Attorney’s office.”

C-SPAN: “…before coming to Congress. Is that not a good track record for a year’s worth of investigation?”

Brooks: “Well, you’re limiting it to Mueller. I’m talking about the big picture, and the big picture is two years. You know sometimes you’re not able to figure out who committed a crime— you know a crime has been committed— a murder or a robbery or what have you and the trail has gone dry and you haven’t been able to ascertain who the culprit is and you stop your investigation. It may reopen if something in the future pops up that suggests, hey, this is the person who did it. But we never had an ongoing investigation of a particular person that lasted anywhere near that length of time. Now, granted, this may be more complicated than most investigations. But two years, given all the resources of the Justice Department, given all the resources of the FBI, given the resources of everybody else who may have been involved in that, that’s plenty of time to conduct an investigation. Now keep in mind, I’m talking about two years to do the investigation— once you’ve got your cards laid out on the table, you’ve got your arrest warrants, you’ve got your indictments, take whatever time it needs to prosecute them in court but get the investigation done because it’s interfering. This is not a normal type of alleged crime and investigation and a prosecution. Normally, that’s very limited and has virtually no impact on our country. But, right now, this going on indefinitely is having a significant— in my judgment— having a significant adverse effect on the ability of the United States government to properly function and properly do its job, particularly at the Executive Branch, particularly at the White House level.”

“Ensuring the integrity of our elections and upholding the rule of law are both critically important and noble causes, but after a year the time has come for Mr. Mueller to either put forward a case or move on,” Byrne said.

Congress is increasingly putting pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end the Mueller investigation. To this point Rosenstein has resisted that pressure.

Both Congressmen Bradley Byrne and Mo Brooks are running for re-election. Byrne has no Republican opponent in the coming primary, while Brooks faces a primary challenger from veteran Clayton Hinchman. The Republican Primary will be on June 5.

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Alabama GOP denounces Jones for voting no on Haspel

Sam Mattison

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The Alabama GOP rebuked Sen. Doug Jones, the state’s Democratic senator, over his no vote on a CIA director nominee that has drawn the ire of senators from both parties.

Jones signaled through a statement this week that he would vote no on the CIA nominee Gina Haspel’s confirmation. His reasoning was mostly based on Haspel’s answer to the question of whether she thought an enhanced interrogation program was immoral.

“While her career has been impressive, Ms. Haspel’s role in programs that conducted torture is very troubling; her refusal to acknowledge the immorality of such conduct even today with the benefit of hindsight is even more so and reflects poorly on our nation’s reputation as a moral leader in the world,” Jones said through a statement.

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The Alabama GOP, who have been critical of some of Jones’ moves while in the Senate, denounced the senator’s move.

Terry Lathan, chairman of the Alabama GOP, said that Haspel is a qualified candidate who is “deserving of a confirmation by the U.S. Senate.”

“In voting no to confirm Gina Haspel, Senator Jones is choosing to put partisanship over our nation’s security,” Lathan said. “Alabama voters will remember this when they head to the polls to choose their next U.S. Senator in 2020.”

Since Jones has taken office, the Alabama GOP has constantly reminded him of his pending election in 2020.

Jones narrowly won the seat in a Special Election in December after his opponent, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, faced a great backlash for allegations of sexual misconduct and dating teenagers nearly four decades ago.

Haspel, however, will face a vote soon in the Senate, and it is clear that she will win a nomination despite the opposition of most of the Democrats and a few influential Republicans.

Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona, was the most prominent in his denouncement.

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” McCain said. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

Haspel’s role in a secret prison in Thailand and her involvement with a controversial program that used enhanced interrogation techniques has become a linchpin of opposition for the nominee.The program, a product of post 9/11 policies, used techniques to interrogate prisoners that some advocates call torture.

One allegation is that Haspel destroyed video tapes of interrogations conducted on Al-Qaeda suspects.

When asked about the program, Haspel said she would not continue the program if confirmed as director. She reiterated that point in a letter to Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner on Wednesday when she said the program should have never been conducted.

The Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed Haspel on Wednesday, and she will now go before the full Senate.

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Ivey backs Nobel Peace Prize for Trump

Sam Mattison

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Gov. Kay Ivey threw her support behind President Donald Trump’s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize through a letter on Tuesday.

Ivey singed the letter to the Nobel Committee along with six other governors supporting the president’s nomination.

“Though he has only been in office one year, President Trump has achieved an unprecedented victory for global peace and security,” the letter read.

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Ivey gave her own comments over Twitter.

“He is due to be honored for his ability to bring everyone to the table to discuss a way which offers the Korean Peninsula & world a path to peace,” Ivey said on Twitter.

Ivey is not alone in the calls for the president to receive a prize and even South Korean officials have credited Trump’s policies to pressuring North Korea into a peace talk.

Trump himself has declined to say if he should receive the award, but did say he wanted “victory for the world” in the Oval Office last Wednesday.

The Korean Peninsula has recently seen an era of peace after a period of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program. Last year, North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb and they have launched missiles over Japan.

Trump’s initial response was hawkish insisting that the United States would destroy North Korea if it continued hostilities and even gave North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un the nickname “rocket man.”

Over the past 5 months, however, the two Koreas have come closer to peace with the two countries even competing in the Winter Olympics over the same flag.

Recently, Kim Jong-un visited South Korea for peace talks, and Trump is scheduled to talk to him in Singapore in June.

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Sen. Doug Jones co-sponsors bipartisan legislation to address opioid crisis

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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