By Abbie Gruwell
The House is considering more than 50 bills aimed at addressing the opioid crisis.
Over two weeks, the House will vote on individual bills and several larger legislative packages, some with bipartisan support and some that are likely to be contentious.
Dozens of bills passed the House already last week and a 50-bill Senate package, which passed out of the Senate Finance Committee in April, is expected to hit the floor this summer.
Included in the House bills are proposals to increase treatment options, repay student loans for those who work in substance use disorder treatment, establish a database of the nation’s efforts to address opioid issues, and encourage the National Institutes of Health to increase research on nonaddictive pain medications.
Others include sharing best practices for operating recovery housing, improving opioid medication disposal and packaging, and expanding oversight of opioid prescribing. Many were the topic of hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee this spring.
Some bills directly affect providers and treatment options, including Jessie’s Law, which requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop standards regarding provider awareness of a patient’s history of opioid addiction. Also, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act aligns federal privacy standards for substance use disorder more closely with HIPAA standards. Another bill allows hospice workers to dispose of a deceased patient’s unused medication.
Many of the bills address drug interdiction and trafficking. Representative Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) proposed new requirements for U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection to prevent the transfer of opioids through the mail by requiring electronic tracking data about the contents.
As for the more contentious proposals, H.R. 2851, which establishes a new schedule under the Controlled Substances Act for synthetic compounds and adds 13 fentanyl compounds to the new schedule, was supported by many law enforcement groups but has also been criticized as too broadly expanding criminal penalties and inhibiting drug research.
The bill, sponsored by Representative John Katko (R-N.Y.), passed the House on Friday. Some Democrats claim the bills do not go far enough to address the crisis, and emphasized funding for community mental health and addiction centers. Similarly, some groups have criticized H.R. 5797 for its proposal to partially repeal the Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion for adult Medicaid beneficiaries with opioid use disorder, saying that the bill does not go far enough.
The House bills do not include legislation that dictates the number of days pain medication can be prescribed, leaving it up to the states, while the Senate proposal includes a three-day prescribing limit.
If the Senate passes its opioids package, the chambers are expected to go to conference to resolve differences in the bills.
Abbie Gruwell is the policy director for human services in NCSL's State-Federal Affairs team in Washington, D.C.