This is a potential game-changer in the way the United States will fight the spread of opioid addiction going forward. The Senate is set to vote on a package of measures aimed at, among other things, increasing access to treatment, strengthening monitoring databases and changing the problematic vocabulary and perception through which so many describe and view this disease. The legislation has received bi-partisan support, in an era when political contentiousness is at an all-time high, and is expected to be approved overwhelmingly before heading to President Obama’s desk for his signature by the end of the week. The effort is one of the most comprehensive to date by the federal government in curbing dependency on these powerful prescription painkillers.
What’s In the Bill?
It’s called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 and it passed the House in a 407-5 vote last week with copious support from congressional democrats. Initially Senate democrats planned to block the bill because of a nearly $1 billion disparity in funding; however, they have recently abandoned this plan and are now expected to approve it in a fashion similar to what we saw during the House vote. Although the package represents sweeping reforms in opioid addiction prevention and treatment, many of the measures remain unfunded.
Some of the main highlights of the legislation include:
* The creation of a “Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force”
* Increased funding for state and local treatment through grants from the Attorney General
* Increasing training and deployment of the anti-overdose drug Narcan
* Strengthening cooperation between State justice and mental health agencies
* Improvement of opioid safety measures by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs
* Heightened regulatory assessment of “good Samaritan laws” and opioid prevention programs
* Addressing the specialized care needs of infants suffering from substance use disorder through the creation of the “Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act” and the “NAS Healthy Babies Act”
* Improvement of treatment for pregnant and postpartum women
* Providing resources to communities to prevent addiction-related youth sports injuries
* Reducing diversion and access to unused medications
* Review and update of labeling for pediatric prescriptions
* Improvement of education for prescribers
* Increasing state-administered monitoring systems to help law enforcement and healthcare providers track abuse
Titles 16 and 17 and Why They’re Particularly Important
Although all of these measures are significant steps in the right direction, perhaps the most important parts of the package are contained within Titles 16 and 17. Title 16 calls for the stringent and ongoing evaluation of the current state of opioid addiction in the United States, including the number of people addicted and their level of access to treatment. The section covers a number of areas, including review of capacity of detox programs and treatment centers; geographical differences of the availability of treatment programs; and the barriers that continue to exist for patients that need treatment.
Title 17 addresses the need for increased awareness and prevention of relapse as well as overdose-related fatalities. It provides for, among other things, increasing access to maintenance drugs; facilitation of referral to counseling and other ancillary services; and providing safeguards against overprescribing of maintenance drugs by physicians and care professionals.
A Fate Yet Undecided
While the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 has received overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, its lack of funding continues to be a sticking point. Senate republicans insist that they have been funding opioid treatment programs for a long time, increasing such funding by 542 percent over the last few years. Democrats, however, say there still isn’t enough money to fund these herculean objectives. With that in mind, it’s questionable to see how this landmark bill will be implemented once it receives presidential approval. The reality is that while politicians sort out the financial aspects, there are a great many solutions contained within this piece of legislation that can have a genuinely positive impact on real peoples’ lives.