HELP Committee Sets April 11 Hearing on Opioids Bill

"The opioid crisis is currently our most serious public health epidemic and despite efforts in every state, it's getting worse," Sen. Lamar Alexander said. "We've been listening to the experts for the last six months on how the federal government can help states and communities bring an end to the opioid crisis, and the bipartisan proposals in this draft reflect what we've learned."

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee has set an April 11 hearing on a draft bill to address the opioids crisis. Committee leaders, both Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., released the draft on April 4, saying it resulted from six hearings the committee held on the crisis with FDA, NIH, CDC, SAMHSA, governors, experts, and families.

Called the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, the bill is intended to improve the ability of the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services -- including FDA, NIH, CDC, the Health Resources and Service Administration, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration -- address the epidemic.

Highlights of the bill listed in Alexander's news release include that it will:

  • Spur development of non-addictive painkillers and other strategies to prevent, treat, and manage pain and substance use disorders through additional flexibility for the NIH and clarifying guidance from FDA
  • Encourage responsible prescribing behavior by clarifying FDA's authority to require packaging options for certain drugs, such as opioids, to allow a set treatment duration, such as blister packs for patients who may only need a 3- or 7-day supply of opioids
  • Clarify FDA authorities to require manufacturers to give patients simple and safe options to dispose of unused opioids
  • Improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl
  • Clarify FDA's development and regulatory pathways for medical product manufacturers through guidance for new non-addictive and non-opioid pain products
  • Provide support for states to improve their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and encourage data sharing between states so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance misuse
  • Increase access to mental health services in schools and to substance use disorder treatment 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
  • Authorize the Department of Labor to address the economic and workforce impacts for communities affected by the crisis through grants targeted at workforce shortages for the substance use and mental health treatment workforce and to align job training and treatment services
  • Update Drug Enforcement Administration regulations to improve treatment access for patients in rural and underserved areas through telemedicine while maintaining proper safeguards
  • Allow hospice programs to safely and properly dispose of unneeded controlled substances to help reduce the risk of diversion and misuse

"The opioid crisis is currently our most serious public health epidemic and despite efforts in every state, it's getting worse," Alexander said. "Our response needs to be urgent, bipartisan, and effective. We've been listening to the experts for the last six months on how the federal government can help states and communities bring an end to the opioid crisis, and the bipartisan proposals in this draft reflect what we've learned, including spurring the development of a non-addictive painkiller, giving the FDA authority to require drug manufacturers to package certain opioids for a set duration and require manufacturers to give patients simple and safe ways to dispose of unused opioids, improving the detection and seizure of illegal drugs, including fentanyl, and improving data sharing so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance abuse and states can better track opioid prescriptions."

Murray agreed, saying, "Families and communities have demanded, and they deserve, additional serious federal action to support and strengthen their efforts on the front lines of the opioid crisis. By working together, listening to researchers, officials, experts, and families facing the crisis, and pulling in the ideas of senators from both sides of the aisle, we have been able to take an important step with this draft bill toward addressing the wide set of challenges caused by the opioid epidemic. I look forward to getting input on this discussion draft and am hopeful that we can continue working together to get this bill signed into law as an important step forward in our work to tackle this national crisis."

The committee is asking for comments on the draft legislation from interested stakeholders by April 11 at the email address HelpFightsOpioids@help.senate.gov.

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