Senate Health Committee Unanimously Passes Bipartisan Bill To Take Next Step In Helping States Fight Opioid Crisis

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Senate health committee on Tuesday voted to approve the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which Chairman Lamar Alexander said will “help create an environment for states to succeed in fighting the opioid crisis.” 

“Over the last six months, this committee has heard from experts on how the federal government can be the best possible partner as we work to combat the nation’s largest public health crisis – the opioid crisis,” Senator Alexander said. The challenge before us has often been described as needing a moonshot. Solving the opioid crisis might require the energy and resources of a moonshot, but ultimately it is not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.

“What the federal government can do is create an environment so that everyone – judges, mayors, counselors, police officers, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, doctors, nurses, parents, pharmacists, and hospitals – can succeed in fighting the crisis. The legislation we approved today aims to create that environment to help states and communities begin to bring an end to the opioid crisis.

“This legislation includes over 40 different proposals, from 38 different senators of both political parties, including legislation to help stop illegal drugs like fentanyl at the border, accelerate research on non-addictive pain medicines, reduce the number of inappropriately prescribed opioids, and support state interventions for children who have experienced trauma, such as a parent using opioids.”

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will:

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

  •  Spur development and research 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 three or seven day supply of opioids—and give patients safe disposal options.
  • Improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, through stronger FDA and Customs and Border Protection coordination.
  • Clarify US Customs and Border Protection is responsible for destroying controlled substances found in packages at the border, and strengthen FDA’s authority to refuse admission of illegal drugs from bad-actors. 
  • 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. 

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

  • 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.

The committee also approved the following bills on Tuesday:

  • Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) — Over-the-Counter Drug Safety, Innovation, and Reform Act (S.2315): This legislation would modernize the way over-the-counter medications are regulated and brought to market. The reforms aim to protect public health and encourage the development of new products to better meet the needs of patients.

  • Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) — Children’s Hospital GME Support Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S. 2597): This bill will reauthorize the children’s hospital graduate medical education (CHGME) program for five years. This bipartisan legislation, first enacted in 1999, provides funding to over 50 freestanding children’s hospitals around the country, supporting the training of pediatricians and improving children’s access to care.

  • Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (S.382): Firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins, and research has shown a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers such as testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancers. This legislation would create a national registry for firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

In addition, the committee approved the nomination of Jon Parrish Peede to serve as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Senator Alexander’s full prepared remarks are available here.


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