Opioid treatment bill moves forward in Senate

A bipartisan bill aimed at curbing the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers took another step forward in a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, first introduced in 2014, provides funding to states for strengthening their prescription monitoring programs and providing more education and treatment opportunities for people with addiction issues. It also increases access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

The bill received more than the 60 votes needed for it to move forward in the Senate. It is expected to get a final vote later this week. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February with a unanimous voice vote.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) has said she will introduce an amendment calling for $600 million in emergency funding to implement the bill. Republicans have balked at this idea and Democratic leaders have not said specifically whether they would vote against the bill if funding is not included.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in remarks before the vote that the bill would be meaningless without the funding. “This is too important to say the check is in the mail,” he said.

The bill comes as multiple levels of government are attempting to deal with the growing crisis of opioid misuse and overdose deaths. It has been a topic on the presidential campaign trail for candidates of both parties. The White House fiscal 2017 budget includes a $1.1 billion request that focuses on improving access to medication-assisted treatment.

Another likely amendment to the bill would allow the CMS to restrict some Medicare Part D patients to using a single prescriber and pharmacy in an attempt to cut down on “doctor shopping" for opioid prescriptions.

The FDA has said it will revise guidelines to consider the broader public health effects of new opioid painkillers when reviewing them for approval.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing guidelines for prescribers of opioid drugs. The guidelines are expected to suggest that providers consider alternative treatment and prescribe fewer pills and lower doses when possible. Some have pushed back against the guidelines, saying they were drafted without input from doctors or patients and risk making it difficult for people with legitimate need for the medicine from getting it.

Shannon Muchmore

Shannon Muchmore reports from Washington on health politics and policy. Before joining Modern Healthcare in 2015, she was the health reporter at the Tulsa (Okla.) World. She has a bachelor’s degree in news editorial journalism from Oklahoma State University.

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