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Shelley Starkey

Senate Judiciary & Finance Advance Opioid Bills

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As a part of the Senate’s larger efforts to address the ongoing opioid epidemic, two committees discussed their own legislative solutions this week. The Senate Finance Committee considered and approved the Helping to End Addiction and Lessen (HEAL) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018 on Tuesday, and the Senate Judiciary advanced the Preventing Drug Diversion Act. These bills will join a host of others that are making their way to the Senate floor, although a timeline on their further consideration is currently unclear.

HEAL Substance Use Disorders Act

The bipartisan Helping to End Addiction and Lessen Substance Use Disorders Act (HEAL Act) of 2018 was passed unanimously out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. The bill would bolster the Medicare, Medicaid and federal human services programs’ response to the opioid crisis by expanding prevention and education initiatives, supporting greater use of telehealth, requiring secure electronic prescribing for controlled substances, enhancing access to non-opioid treatment options and expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment. “This strong, bipartisan legislation makes meaningful progress toward addressing the opioid crisis facing our nation,” said Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Medicare and Medicaid provide more than one third of all health care in America, and the HEAL Substance Use Disorders Act makes much-needed reforms to address opioids and other substance use disorders for beneficiaries and families in these programs.

During committee discussion, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act as an amendment to the HEAL Act with the aim of ensuring that more communities have access to the full range of evidence-based addiction treatments at Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics or CCBHCs. The bill would expand the current eight-state, two-year CCBHC program, which has shown tremendous results in dramatically improving access to opioid and other addiction care. While the amendment had to be withdrawn for relevancy, it prompted an important discussion among committee members about the need for a more significant and sustainable investment in the nation’s addiction treatment infrastructure.

Visit the Committee’s website for fast facts on the bill, as well as a video of the Committee’s session.

Preventing Drug Diversion Act

The Preventing Drug Diversion Act passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and aims to identify and intercept suspicious orders of opioid-based prescription drugs. The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to define “suspicious order” to include unusually sized orders, orders that deviate substantially from a normal pattern, orders of unusual frequency and orders that meet other criteria set by the U.S. Attorney General. This bill joins five other opioid-related bills that have already been reported out of the Judiciary Committee.

What’s Next?

While the full House has already passed dozens of opioid-related bills with more to follow in the coming weeks, the Senate’s timeline is still unclear. Washington insiders speculate that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may choose to delay consideration of these bills on the Senate floor until after midterm elections in November.