Alexander: Draft Legislation Will Help Address Urgent Opioid Crisis

Posted on April 5, 2018

JOHNSON CITY, TENN., April 5, 2018 — At a roundtable focused on the opioid crisis at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that draft legislation he and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released yesterday will “help address the urgent opioid crisis.”

In May 2017, Niswonger opened a new neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in part to respond to the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome at the hospital—at the time about 30 percent of babies admitted to the Niswonger NICU were experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to drug exposure. Alexander today joined a discussion of health care providers, mayors, state officials, and others who work on the opioid crisis in East Tennessee.

“Despite hard work by excellent providers and organizations such as Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the opioid crisis is still ravaging our communities,” Alexander said. “While many of the solutions to this crisis are going to come from states, communities, and local partners, the federal government can and should play and important role. This week, Senator Murray and I released draft bipartisan legislation to help Tennessee and states across the country battling this crisis on the frontlines.”

Alexander continued: “This legislation has emerged from six bipartisan hearings, where we heard from governors, the National Institutes of Health, and Food and Drug Administration on ways the federal government could be better partner to states. One proposal, asked for by Dr. Collins at NIH, will help spur the development of a non-addictive painkiller – which I see, along with other non-addictive pain strategies, as the ‘Holy Grail’ in the fight against the opioid crisis.”

“It will also give the Food and Drug Administration 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, improve the detection and seizure of illegal drugs, including fentanyl, and improve data sharing so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance abuse and states can better track opioid prescriptions. My goal is for the committee to quickly approve this legislation this spring so states and communities can begin to take advantage of it.”  

You can read more about this draft legislation here.

The Senate health committee chaired by Alexander has held a series of six hearings so far this Congress to hear input on ways the federal government can be a better partner for states and communities on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

On October 5, 2017, the Senate health committee held the first hearing of the series which focused on the federal response to the opioid crisis, and on November 30, 2017, the committee heard from witnesses representing states, communities, and providers on what they are doing and what, if any, new authorities they need from the federal government to fight the crisis. On January 9, 2018, the committee heard from author Sam Quinones, who has extensively researched and written about the opioid crisis. On February 8, 2018, the committee held a hearing to look the effects the opioid crisis has on children and families. On February 27, 2018, the committee held a hearing on the role technology and data play in responding to the crisis. On March 8, the committee heard from some of the nation’s governors about how they are coming up with innovative solutions and leading the fight against the unique problems their states face in the midst of the opioid crisis.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 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 the FDA.
  • Encourage responsible prescribing behavior by clarifying FDA authority to require packaging options for certain drugs, such as opioids to allow a set treatment duration, for example “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, through stronger FDA and Customer Border Protection coordination.
  • 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 (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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.