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Rep. John Sarbanes
Rep. John Sarbanes (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Democrats crafting a final version of a bill to address opioid addiction, including Rep. John Sarbanes of Baltimore County, said Tuesday they will not back a measure absent "significant funding" to deal with the problem.

House and Senate lawmakers approved competing legislation this year to expand access to treatment, make overdose reversal drugs more available and strengthen state prescription drug monitoring programs. Sarbanes was named in May to the conference committee working to resolve the differences in those bills.

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But the lack of funding has been a major sticking point in negotiations for months -- long before the conference effort got underway. Senate Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to add $600 million to their version of the bill this spring, but Republicans have said they want the money to come as part of the regular appropriations process this fall.

In a letter Tuesday to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, Sarbanes and other Democrats said they would not support legislation from the conference committee effort unless funding is attached.

The lawmakers proposed $920 million.

"We believe that the opioid epidemic is truly a public health crisis and should be treated as such," the Democrats wrote. "Accordingly, we will not sign a conference report that does not include significant funding that reflects the seriousness of the epidemic and provides meaningful support to these important priorities."

About 28,000 people died of overdoses in the United States in 2014, four times the number in 2000. In Baltimore, more than 340 people died from drug and alcohol overdoses in the first three quarters of 2015, up from the 303 who died in all of 2014.

An estimated 20,000 people in the city are using heroin today.

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