Opioid Legislation Gets Priority by House Panel: GOP Chairman

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By Bronwyn Mixter

Opioid legislation will take center stage again as a House panel will consider additional bills that include giving doctors more information about the addiction history of their patients.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is working on a legislative package to combat the epidemic with the goal of getting it to the House floor by Memorial Day, Rep. Greg. Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the committee, said March 1 at a forum on opioids. As part of it’s work, the committee will hold two hearings, one in March, to examine bills that also would improve the safe disposal of unused medications and establish a database to compile information on federal efforts to stop the the opioid crisis, he said.

Congress is grappling with how to combat the widespread opioid abuse epidemic. Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walden said his committee has been developing bipartisan legislation for months and combating the opioid crisis is his top priority.

“The crisis that is ravaging our nation has continued to grow,” and “our efforts simply must grow to meet this challenge,” Walden said.

The committee also held a hearing Feb. 28 on other opioid legislation. At that hearing, committee members appeared split along party lines over how to address the opiod crisis, which indicates trouble for the legislative package. The lawmakers discussed legislation to greatly expand the attorney general’s authority to ban potential dangerous new drugs such as synthetic opioids and to encourage doctors and pharmacists to get more education on opioid prescribing and phone prescriptions.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member of the committee, didn’t return a Bloomberg Law request for comment on the committee’s efforts. At the last hearing he said he’s uneasy with expanding the attorney general’s authority but he hopes to work with his colleagues so “that we can all support legislation that will help address the opioid crisis.”

“Both the House and the Senate appear motivated to get a comprehensive bill on President Trump’s desk this year,” Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Brian Rye told Bloomberg Law March 2. “Senator [Rob] Portman (R-Ohio) recently unveiled the CARA 2.0 bill, and while Republicans and Democrats in the House aren’t yet on the same page regarding all the elements of their legislative package, I expect them to iron out those differences in the next month or two.”

The Senate’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 (bill number not available), introduced Feb. 27, would increase funding authorization levels for the CARA programs enacted in 2016 and put in place additional policy reforms to help combat the opioid epidemic, such as limiting opioid prescriptions to three days. The first CARA was a bipartisan bill designed to ensure that federal resources were devoted to evidence-based opioid education, treatment, and recovery programs that work.

Portman introduced the bill along with Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Ar.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

House Bill on Patient Information

One bill the Energy and Commerce Committee will consider is Jessie’s Law ( H.R. 1554), which would require the Health and Human Services Department to develop standards for hospitals and physicians on how to display a history of opioid addiction in the medical records of patients.

Jessie’s Law “would help ensure doctors have access to a consenting patient’s prior history of addiction in order to make fully informed care and treatment decisions,” Walden said.

The bill, introduced March 15, 2017, by Reps. Tim Walberg (R- Mich.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), is named after Michigan resident Jessie Grubb, who died of an opioid overdose. Grubb was a recovering heroin addict and was prescribed opioids after a hip surgery by a doctor who didn’t know her prior history of addiction.

The Senate version of the bill ( S. 581) was passed by the Senate with unanimous consent in August 2017.

Clearinghouse of Information

Walden also said the committee will examine a bill ( H.R. 4284) that would establish a clearinghouse to compile information on federal efforts to stop the opioid crisis. The bill was introduced Nov. 10, 2017, by Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio).

“The information would be used to help federal, state, and local officials develop the most effective strategies to prevent addiction, treat those that are addicted, and keep prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands,” Walden said.

The bill would establish a public electronic database to collect the information. The database also would track federal funding being used to combat the epidemic.

Disposing Unused Medications

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) also is planning to introduce a bill on unused medication that will be considered by the committee.

Hudson’s bill would require the Government Accountability Office to study new technologies that claim to be able to safely dispose of opioids and other unused medications, Walden said. The bill also would require the attorney general to establish guidelines for the safe in-home disposal of prescription drugs.

While there’s no “silver-bullet solution” to the epidemic, the proper disposal of opioids could make a big difference, Hudson said Feb. 28 at an Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on opioids.

The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association didn’t return requests comment on the bills.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bronwyn Mixter in Washington at bmixter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bloomberglaw.com

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