Senate Health Committee releases draft of bipartisan opioid bill

Senate Health Committee releases draft of bipartisan opioid bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Health Committee leaders released Wednesday a bipartisan discussion draft of a bill aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, legislation that's the result of six hearings over the past six months.

The panel will hold a hearing next week on the draft aimed at stemming the crisis killing thousands of people each year. It includes measures attempting to make it easier to prescribe smaller packs of opioids for limited durations, spur the development of nonaddictive painkillers and bolster the detection of illegal drugs at the border.

“The opioid crisis is currently our most serious public health epidemic and despite efforts in every state, it’s getting worse,” Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Horse abuse for ribbons and prizes has to stop Overnight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds MORE (R-Tenn.) said in a press release. “Our response needs to be urgent, bipartisan and effective.”

Deaths involving opioids are rising, up nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016. Congress and the Trump administration have been grappling with how to respond.

The draft bill, called the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, includes measures aimed at helping specific agencies and departments address the crisis.

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It clarifies the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to require that drug manufacturers package painkillers in smaller packs — such as a seven- or three-day supply — with the hope of helping to curb overprescribing. It also clarifies the regulatory path to create nonaddictive drugs to help with pain.

The draft legislation updates how certain opioid grants are doled out, boosting the allotments for states that the epidemic has hit the hardest. It also would let states use the funding they get until it runs out, rather than requiring it be spent during that year.

Some states have been implementing limits on the length and dosage of opioid prescriptions, and the draft bill calls for the Health and Human Services secretary to issue a report on the impact of these laws. The measures have been controversial, and the American Medical Association does not support such limits, saying they’re arbitrary and don’t allow for the flexibility physicians need to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The draft also aims to improve access to telemedicine, bolster access to treatment in underserved areas, encourage states to share data on opioid prescribing and dispensing, and more.

“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 panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Chris Murphy may oppose bipartisan health bill unless it addresses ObamaCare 'sabotage' Key senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs MORE (Wash.), said in Wednesday's press release.

Earlier this year, Alexander said he hopes to mark up opioid legislation this spring.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also working on an opioid package with the goal of having the legislation on the House floor by Memorial Day weekend.