WASHINGTON — House Republicans and Democrats joined forces on more than a dozen bills to fight the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic.
The Bipartisan Heroin Task Force’s goal is to bring attention to the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic and to advance bills it believes have the potential to gain traction and funding, explained Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), task force co-chair, during a Wednesday press conference.
Prescriber education, treatment of vulnerable populations, and upholding the rule of law are just some of the issues covered in the various bills, he noted.
Asked whether the group was lobbying to include funding for the opioid epidemic in a must-pass spending bill, Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), co-chair of the task force, said that the group had considered it, and would be issuing a letter on that matter soon.
MacArthur said it was “confusing to progress” to advance programs at the federal level and then fail to provide the funding to implement them.
“For us to have progress at the federal level … we have to have funding, robust funding, tens of billions of dollars in funding to help our country,” he said. “We haven’t defined numbers yet…but we will be asking our appropriators and others to make sure there’s adequate funding for us to really do our jobs.” However, he stopped short of saying where the money would come from for these proposed programs.
One objective of the task force is to educate Congress on the rationale for injecting dollars into these programs, Kuster said. For instance, she said employers in her community said they struggle to fill jobs because so many applicants aren’t able to pass a drug test.
“That’s an expense to our society,” Kuster said. “That’s a drag on our economy, and it’s an important problem for these families trying to cope with a breadwinner that’s unable to work.”
The task force’s 2018 legislative agenda includes advancing 17 bills (two have passed). Key provisions in these bills include:
- Requiring any provider applying for a DEA license to certify he or she will only prescribe controlled substances according to current best practice guidelines, such as prescribing non-opioid analgesics as a first or concurrent step, and limiting prescriptions to more than a 10-day supply or the limit set by individual states, if less.
- Ordering the Health Resources and Services Administration to work with medical course accreditation groups to develop guidance for addiction management courses at least 12 course-hours in length. After 3 years, all physicians applying for a DEA license would have to show that they had taken an accredited course.
- Mandating that all prescriptions for controlled substances received through Medicare Part D be transmitted electronically by 2020.
- Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment to pregnant and postpartum women by broadening prescriber eligibility to clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists; and making permanent previous authorizations that allowed nonphysician providers to provide patients with buprenorphine.
Members of the task force also described legislation promoted in the previous Congress, including:
- Jessie’s Law, which aims to make sure doctors have access to a patient’s history of addiction before making treatment decisions
- The Stop OD Act that earmarks $75 million in grants over 2 years for opioid education efforts, and another $150 million for training for the use of naloxone
- The Road to Recovery Act which would scrap Medicaid’s Institution for Mental Diseases exclusion for substance use disorder. The provision prevents use of federal Medicaid funds in mental health and substance use facilities with more than 16 beds
Finally, the task force applauded passage of the INTERDICT Act, a bill to supply U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the latest chemical screening tools to help prevent fentanyl and synthetic opioids from entering the country. The task force said it expects the president to sign that bill into law on Wednesday.
The group also celebrated passage of the VA Prescription Data Accountability Act, which mandates that the Veterans Health Administration must update the prescription drug monitoring program for any person prescribed controlled substances through the agency.