Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: Opioids Legislation is a Landmark Victory for Tennessee

Posted on July 15, 2016

Each year, more than 1,000 Tennesseans die from opioid abuse or overdose—this epidemic takes more Tennessee lives than car accidents or gunshots do.

So, this week, the Senate sent the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to the president’s desk to be signed into law. As the chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee I was proud to be part of the conference committee that developed the final legislation with the House of Representatives and recommend it to the Congress for its support. The new law will help stop this epidemic and give a boost to those fighting on the front lines. Because the way to fight this epidemic is not to wage a battle from Washington but, to support those who are fighting the battle on the front lines. That battle is being fought state by state, county by county, doctor’s office by doctor’s office.

CARA does that by helping states like Tennessee respond to the opioid crisis and expand access to life-saving opioid overdose reversal medications. The Senate has boosted funding to fight opioid abuse by 542 percent over the past three years.

It will support education, prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts to address the opioid abuse crisis and help individuals with an opioid use disorder get and stay well.

Last week the Secretary of Health and Human Services took another important step and heeded some East Tennessee common-sense advice to remove questions from a Medicare survey that have the unintended consequence of actually encouraging physicians to overprescribe painkilling opioids. Patient responses to the questions, which concerned their satisfaction with pain management, are tied to calculating how much hospitals are paid by Medicare. The questions are being proposed for removal from hospital payment calculations.

This is a direct response to the concern that State Rep. Bill Dunn, law enforcement officials, doctors and community leaders raised last September at our Knoxville roundtable with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden.

I’m glad to see the administration correct this mistake.

I hear about the challenges of dealing with the opioid epidemic at home in Tennessee, particularly in East Tennessee. The human costs of this epidemic are too high, and this new law is a landmark victory for all those suffering the effects of opioid addiction.