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Jacquelyn Sommer

Manager, Policy and Advocacy

Senate Committee Explores Solutions to U.S. Opioid Epidemic

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On Tuesday, the influential Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to examine addiction to opioids, continuing a string of notable legislative action aimed at finding solutions to the opioid epidemic in America.  The hearing was convened to connect opioid abuse to mental health reform and explore changes that could be made to federal policies regarding opioid abuse.


At the hearing, Senators heard testimony on a bill by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would limit Medicare patients who are prescribed opioid medication to a single doctor and a single pharmacist, a proposal aimed at reducing “doctor-shopping.” Members of the Committee also commented on the importance of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in making more comprehensive changes to federal policies regarding opioid abuse. In his opening remarks, Chairman Orin Hatch noted that CARA unanimously passed the Judiciary Committee and that he believed the Toomey proposal to be a “very thoughtful bill”.


Throughout the hearing, several members voiced support for Senator Toomey’s bill (S. 1913) while voicing their concern that additional, more comprehensive reform is needed.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reminded committee members of the creation of Community Certified Behavioral Health Centers through the Excellence in Mental Health Act enacted in 2014, noting that through this designation, many communities would be better equipped to address the opioid epidemic.


Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Ranking Member on the committee, pushed for a “fresh approach” that improved prevention, treatment, and enforcement in equal measure. He also called for greater access to mental health services “a prerequisite for any solution” to the opioid crisis, arguing that the two are intimately linked. Shortly after the hearing, Senators Wyden and Orin Hatch (R-UT) announced their intent to release a bipartisan plan to permit states to use foster care funds to support opioid-addicted parents raising their children.


The hearing comes on the heels of a meeting President Obama had with the nation’s Governors on February 22.  They discussed options for expanding access to substance abuse treatment and the impact of opioid abuse on communities.  Obama noted the importance of taking swift action to address the opioid crisis “because the pain is real.  The mental illness is real.  In some cases addiction is already there.”