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Shelley Starkey

Eight Opioid Bills and CARA 2.0 Slated for Consideration in Congress

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In the midst of an ongoing epidemic of prescription and illicit opioid addiction, which largely drove the more than 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, Congress is eagerly seeking solutions. Both the House and the Senate introduced a flurry of bills aimed at combating the opioid epidemic from many angles. The Senate is working on follow-up legislation to the 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), while the House is considering a package of eight opioid-focused bills.

Senate Activity

A bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday to expand upon the work already achieved by the original CARA law. The new bill provides direction on spending the recently authorized $6 billion in federal funds to address opioid use.

The provisions of greatest importance to the National Council include: the bill’s call for national standards around recovery housing; expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders; and additional and expanded funding for recovery support services. These key provisions are important pillars of comprehensive addiction treatment and recovery support services.

Additional provisions of the bill include: mandating the use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) for opioid prescriptions across the country and applying more stringent reporting standards on drug companies surrounding opioid diversion and suspicious activity.

Efforts in the House

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hosted its first in a series of hearings to review eight bills aimed at addressing various aspects of the opioid epidemic from the following angles:

  • Telemedicine: The Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act of 2018, still discussion draft, would expand access to medication-assisted treatment for patients in rural communities by allowing community mental health and addiction centers to prescribe controlled substances – like medication-assisted treatment psychiatric medications – via telemedicine. Another bill, also still in discussion draft, would create clarity on a special registration process for telemedicine providers to register with DEA.
  • Law enforcement: The Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act (H.R. 2851) would outlaw new types of synthetic drugs and expedite the process of scheduling new substances. A discussion draft of another bill would give the Drug Enforcement Administration more authority over the illegal trafficking of machines used to create synthetic drugs.
  • Treatment: The Opioid PACE Act (H.R. 2063) would require practitioners to receive continuing medical education on best practices in managing patients with chronic pain and opioid dependence. Additionally, the Ensuring Patient Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatments Act, still in discussion draft, would update federal law to improve the dispensing of implantable and injectable therapies – developed to make abuse, misuse, and diversion more difficult.
  • Prevention: The Safe Disposal of Unused Medication Act (H.R. 5041) would allow hospice workers the legal authority to safely dispose of unused medication in patients’ homes to reduce the risk of diversion. Meanwhile, the Empowering Pharmacists in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse Act (H.R. 4275) would help pharmacists better detect fraudulent prescriptions.

Stay tuned to Capitol Connector for updates on Congress’ efforts to tackle the ongoing opioid epidemic.