Senate sends sweeping opioid bill to president’s desk

Five days after the House of Representatives passed the conference report to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (S. 524) by an overwhelming majority of 407 to 5, the Senate followed suit, approving the conference report 92 to 2 and sending the legislative package to the President’s desk. The bill, the most sweeping drug legislation in years, aims to fight the nation’s growing opioid crisis. Concurrently, 46 members of the National Governors Association (NGA) signed a compact agreeing the boost efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.

In the U.S., approximately 4.5 million people were non-medical prescription pain reliever users in 2013, and an estimated 289,000 were current heroin users, according to HHS. The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain medications has nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2013, and deaths related to heroin increased 39 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act

S. 524 authorizes the Attorney General and the HHS Secretary to award grants to address the national epidemics of heroin and prescription opioid addiction and makes other changes to federal law to combat opioid addiction and abuse. These changes would give medical professional and law enforcement more tools to help drug addicts and give emergency medical workers expanded access to a drug that can help reverse overdoses and improve treatment for incarcerated individuals.

Among other efforts, CARA will create a task force on pain management to review best practices for chronic and acute pain management and prescribing pain medication. It also creates awareness campaigns and supports community-based coalitions to address the local drug crisis. Other efforts improve access to overdose treatment, expand the reach of National Institutes of Health opioid research, and authorizes grants for residential treatment for pregnant and postpartum women with opioid use disorders.

Governors sign compact

Forty-six governors signed the NGA Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction, agreeing to redouble their efforts to fight the opioid epidemic with new steps to reduce inappropriate prescribing, change the nation’s understanding of opioids and addiction, and ensure a pathway to recovery for individuals suffering from addiction. Actions to be undertaken as a result of the compact include partnering the health care providers to develop or update evidence-based opioid prescribing guidelines and consider prescription limits with exceptions for certain patients and circumstances. The governors will also seek to reduce payment and administrative barriers in Medicaid and other health plans to promote access to a range of addiction treatment options, including well-supervised, medication-assisted treatment and comprehensive recovery services.