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Jenni Muns

Policy Associate, National Council for Behavioral Health

Sens. Ayotte, Donnelly Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Opioid and Heroin Abuse

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Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have reintroduced legislation that will promote the responsible treatment of pain through prescription opioids, as well as take steps to prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse. The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act of 2015  (S. 1134) aims to improve healthcare providers’ and public health officials’ ability to prevent prescription drug abuse; support law enforcement efforts to remove heroin from the streets; give more first responders access to life-saving naloxone (used to counter the effects of opioid overdose), and increase awareness among health care providers, patients, and the public about prescription opioid abuse and heroin.


What’s in the Bill?

Specifically, the legislation will assemble a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to develop best practices for pain management and prescription pain medication prescribing practices. This proposal comes in response to data showing wide variability in prescribing practices across the country, with many prescribers disagreeing on when to use prescription painkillers and how much to prescribe. Legitimate prescriptions can be a contributing factor to opioid addiction if they are used improperly or diverted to illegitimate use.  The task force will consist of physicians, pharmacists, experts, and other stakeholders in the health, veterans, defense, medical, and drug control/enforcement arenas. Its recommendations must take into consideration existing pain management research, recommendations from relevant conferences; and ongoing efforts at the State and local levels and by medical professional organizations to develop improved pain management strategies.

Additionally, the legislation authorizes $9 million yearly from 2016 to 2020 for states to carry out prescription drug monitoring programs. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to further the education and awareness of the public, providers, patients, and other stakeholders regarding the risk of abuse of prescription opioid drugs if they are not taken as prescribed. Furthermore, it authorizes grants for demonstration programs to allow trained first responders to prevent prescription opioid and heroin overdose death by administering naloxone to a person who has experienced overdose.


The Heroin and Opioid Abuse Epidemic

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately four out of every five new heroin users previously used non-medical prescription pain medication before using heroin. More people die every day from drug overdoses than from traffic crashes, and the majority of drug overdose deaths are caused by prescription opioids and heroin. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that 46 people in the U.S. die each day from an overdose of prescription pain medication, with a 39 percent increase in heroin-linked deaths from 2012 to 2013 alone.

Numerous bills that deal with reducing opioid and heroin abuse have been introduced in the House and Senate; stay tuned to Capitol Connector for the latest news and updates on opioid abuse legislation.