The Washington Examiner: Senate passes massive legislation to combat opioid crisis

Posted on September 17, 2018

The Washington Examiner: Senate passes massive legislation to combat opioid crisis

By Robert King

September 17, 2018


The Senate passed on Monday by a nearly unanimous vote a bill containing 70 measures aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, setting up a conference with the House of Representatives to reconcile differences between the versions and send legislation to President Trump.

The Senate's Opioid Response Act includes measures that range from expanding access to treatments for opioid addiction to changing the packaging of opioids to prevent overuse. The measure passed 99-1, with Sen. MIke Lee, R-Utah, being the lone dissenting vote.

"Opioids are our most serious public health epidemic," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a lead sponsor of the legislation, on the Senate floor before the vote.

Alexander said he hopes to hold a quick conference with the House and produce a final version by Friday. Then the House, which is out this week, will vote on the final version next week and the Senate the week after. Then the bill would go to President Trump, who has voiced support for some pieces of the legislation.

One major difference is that the House version included a bill that partially repealed a decades-old rule that prohibited Medicaid reimbursements to psychiatric facilities that devoted more than 16 beds to patients with severe mental illness.

The Institutions for Mental Disease rule was added to the law that created Medicaid in 1965 to clamp down on massive mental health facilities. However, since the passage of the rule, there has become a shortage of beds for psychiatric facilities, especially as the opioid crisis has grown.

There is still a chance that repeal of the rule could be inserted into a final package.

The Senate's legislation includes a measure to give the U.S. Postal Service more tools to identify suspicious shipments of illicit fentanyl from overseas. A congressional probe found that it was incredibly easy to buy fentanyl online, with shippers using the postal service because of the low risk of seizure.

Another provision would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to require new packaging for opioids, specifically to limit packaging of opioids to blister packs of three to seven pills. The goal is to help prevent overuse of the drug, a key contributor to the epidemic.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses and nearly 30,000 died from overdoses linked to fentanyl or other powerful synthetic opioids, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The legislation would also provide more access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and aims to fast-track development of new nonaddictive painkillers.

The legislation is devoid of new funding for the crisis, but an appropriations bill that passed the Senate earlier this month included nearly $4 billion to boost grants to states to combat the epidemic.