U.S. Fight Against Opioids Rages On

During the week of June 15th of this year alone, the U.S. House of Representatives passed 25 bills aimed at combatting the country’s opioid epidemic, a crisis that continues to spread. Within the fairly wide-ranging catalog of bills, most seek to positively impact the epidemic through treatment and recovery, prevention, and the dissemination of information. Among the bills currently making the most headlines are H.R. 3331, H.R. 5002, H.R. 5176 and H.R. 4275.

H.R. 3331 is a bill that would promote the testing of incentive payments for behavioral health providers to adopt and use certified electronic health record technology. This would potentially improve health record keeping for those individuals undergoing treatment at such facilities. H.R. 5002 would provide the National Institutes of Health with newer, more flexible authorities to conduct innovative research in new areas focusing on non-addictive pain medications. It is the hope that this bill could lead to breakthroughs in medications that would lead to decreased numbers of individuals becoming addicted to opioids, which is likely to correlate to decreased numbers of illegal drug users. H.R. 5176 would provide resources for hospitals to develop protocols on discharging patients who have presented with an opioid overdose. This has the potential to allow for better documentation and following up on individuals who have received emergency room treatment and life-saving drugs. H.R. 4275 would help provide pharmacists with better means to detect fraudulent prescriptions. This would help to combat against addiction and the black market for prescription medications.

New proposed legislation has also began advancing through the Senate, as the Senate Finance Committee passes along the Helping to End Addiction and Lesson (“HEAL”) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018. This bill contains provisions that would loosen telehealth restrictions and require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct demonstrations to test coverage and payments for opioid use disorder treatment services. The bill also contains provisions that would eliminate lifetime limits on Medicaid-covered medication assisted treatment. Furthermore, the bill contains a measure introduced by senators on both sides of the aisle that would require greater disclosures of transactions between drug and medical device manufacturers and nurse practitioners and physician assistants. According to the senators who introduced this measure, nurse practitioners and physician assistants account for a significant percentage of written prescriptions and therefore should be included in payment disclosures, to ensure they are not being unduly influenced by drug and medical device manufacturers.

It is the hope that these bills, if passed, can begin to curb and ultimately adequately address the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our country in the past few years. Though some of these bills will still face major congressional hurdles, there will without a doubt be more opioid-related bills soon to follow. If you are a healthcare provider or work for an entity that will potentially be affected by any of these new bills, it is important that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney with your questions or concerns.