Opioid Legislation Takes Center Stage in House, Senate

The House and Senate are working on legislation to halt the opioid abuse epidemic.

“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 me recently.

In the House, the 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.

Walden said his committee will hold two hearings, one in March, to examine bills that would improve the safe disposal of unused medications, give doctors more information about the addiction history of their patients, and establish a database to compile information on federal efforts to stop the opioid crisis.

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

Walden’s 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 opioid 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.

And in the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is planning to markup opioid legislation before the end of March, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the committee, said at a recent hearing. Specifics on what legislation will be considered haven’t yet been released.

The Senate HELP Committee has held five hearings to examine the epidemic. It also will hold a sixth hearing March 8 to hear from state governors on their efforts and how the federal government can help them.

Read my full article here.

Stay on top of new developments in health law and regulation, and learn more, by signing up for a free trial to Bloomberg Law.