A dozen bills to combat the opioid epidemic moved forward in a congressional subcommittee on Wednesday, including measures to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, make overdose reversal drugs more available and develop best practices for pain management.
The Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee easily passed the bipartisan bills onto the full committee with voice votes. The committee chairman said he hopes the legislation can reach the full House by the first week of May.
Committee Ranking Member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he is glad to see the full support for the bills but increased funding is urgently needed for the efforts to be successful.
“I am disappointed that Congress has failed to provide the resources necessary,” he said.
The pack of bills joins several other measures underway to address the opioid crisis.
The Senate easily passed legislation with much of the same language in March, but Democrats said the defeat of an emergency funding amendment made it basically powerless. The White House called for $1 billion to fight the epidemic in its fiscal 2017 budget request.
One of the measures approved Wednesday would increase the number of patients to whom doctors can prescribe buprenorphine, which treats opioid addiction. It would also allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe the medication.
Lawmakers discussed what the patient cap for buprenorphine should be, ranging between a slight increase of the current 100-patient cap to a five-fold increase.
Pallone said the very idea of a patient cap was “nonsensical” and introduced an amendment to set it at 300 instead of the bill's original 250.
“In this instance we're not trusting doctors who are on the front line of this crisis,” he said.
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) said it is important to minimize diversion of the drug, and multiple stakeholders had settled on 250 as a workable compromise. The amendment failed.
Other provisions approved Wednesday would allow doctors to provide caregivers with naloxone, allow pharmacists to partially fill prescriptions and provide treatment for pregnant and postpartum women who overuse opioids.