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Shelley Starkey

Opioid Crisis Response Package Moves Forward in Senate

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On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously voted to approve the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a large, bipartisan package of potential solutions to the ongoing crisis. The bill (S. 2680), introduced by Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), would next have to be approved by the full Senate before heading to the House for additional consideration and debate.

Similar to earlier drafts of the package, the committee-approved version includes the following provisions strongly supported by the National Council:

  • Promotes the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Workforce: By adding substance use disorder (SUD) providers to the list of providers eligible for loan repayment through the National Health Service Corps, the bill would increase access to care for individuals living with SUD. The National Council and our members have strongly supported this change and encouraged the introduction of this important bill.
  • Increases Access to Behavioral Health Services in Schools & Communities: The bill would also extend the options of eligible sites in which behavioral health National Health Service Corps participants may work, to include schools and other community-based settings.
  • Establishes Guidance for Recovery Housing: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to issue best practices for entities operating recovery housing, a supportive housing model for individuals living in recovery from addiction. The National Council strongly supports this change, which aligns with the recommendations in our recently released Recovery Housing Toolkit.
  • Creates Special Telemedicine Registration: The package includes a bill developed as the result of National Council advocacy efforts to remove barriers to MAT and prescribing of controlled substances—such as buprenorphine and some psychiatric medications—via telemedicine. The package would require the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to allow community mental health and addiction treatment centers to register with DEA to provide controlled substances, in compliance with the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act.

The package includes other provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery of opioid addiction, such as training for first responders, opioid prescribing limits for providers, and more. It also increases flexibility for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research pain-management alternatives to opioids and to look into risk factors that may lead to individuals developing substance use disorders. For a more in-depth summary of the provisions included in the bill, click here.

The House of Representatives is concurrently working on its own package of solutions to the crisis with slightly different approaches. Should both packages advance through their respective chambers of Congress, a committee of legislators from both the House and the Senate will need to reconcile the differences before sending a final bill to President Trump.