Senator Murkowski Secures Provisions to Fight Opioid Epidemic

Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Supply, Encourage Recovery, Support Families, and Drive Innovation

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today voted in favor of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which passed the Senate in a 99-1 vote. This bipartisan package was developed through combining the proposals of over 70 senators and the work by five committees: Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP); Commerce; Finance; Judiciary; and Banking. As a member of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Murkowski helped secure several provisions in the bill aimed to address the ongoing shortage of professionals needed to provide treatment and recovery services, advance cutting-edge research, improve access to mental health services, and measure success in curtailing the incidence and prevalence of opioid misuse and abuse.

“The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc across our nation and in my home state of Alaska—and it isn’t just impacting the lives of substance abusers. This is a problem that consumes all ages, all spectrums, and all classes. Addiction knows no boundaries. For far too long we have seen over-prescription lead to opioid dependence. We have witnessed addicts triumph over their disease of addiction, but ultimately return to using due to a lack of resources or support. We have watched family after family mourn the loss of someone they love due to an overdose. And we have learned that the repercussions of substance abuse impacts more than the users, such as mothers passing their addictions onto their newborn babies,” said Senator Murkowski. “This bill package is all-encompassing— addressing prevention, treatment, recovery, and long-term support. From working to cut off the flow of drugs into our communities to improving access to care and treatment, I am proud of the work we have done on what is truly landmark legislation. It’s time to break the stigma, care for our communities, and turn the tide of this epidemic.”

Bill Highlights:

Drives Innovation and Long-Term Solutions

  • Cutting-Edge Research: Includes a bill Senator Murkowski cosponsored, the Advancing Cutting-Edge Research Act, to allow the National Institutes of Health to use its “other transactions authority” for high impact cutting-edge research projects.
  • Jessie’s Law: Requires HHS to develop best practices for prominently displaying substance use treatment information in electronic health records, when requested by the patient. Senator Murkowski cosponsored this legislation.
  • NHSC Professionals in Schools: Allows National Health Service Corps participants to provide behavioral and mental health services at community-based settings located in a shortage area. These services can be applied towards completion of their service requirements. Senator Murkowski was the Republican lead of this standalone legislation, the Improving Access to Mental Health Services, with Senator Smith.
  • National Milestones to Measure Progress in Ending the Opioid Epidemic Act: Requires the development or identification of existing national indicators to measure success in curtailing the opioid crisis and significantly reversing the incidence and prevalence of opioid misuse and abuse and opioid-related mortality. Senator Murkowski introduced this standalone legislation with Senators Markey and Hassan.
  • Pain Research: Updates the scope of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee to identify risk factors for, and early warning signs of, substance use disorders, and summarize advances in pain care research supported or conducted by the federal government, including information on best practices for the utilization of non-pharmacologic treatments, non-addictive medical products, and other drugs approved, or devices approved or cleared, by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Addressing Economic & Workforce Impacts: Authorizes the Department of Labor to award dislocated worker grants to states through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to address shortages in substance use disorder and mental health treatment workforce.
  • Report: Requires the Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, in collaboration with the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Secretary of the Treasury, to provide reports on mental health parity compliance, which agencies are conducting investigations and coordination with State regulators.

Reduces Use and Supply

  • The STOP Act: Requires the United States Postal Service to include detailed descriptions on packages and to increase regulatory practices regarding the delivery of packages to help ensure opioids and other harmful drugs cannot be illegally transported by mail. 
  • Data Sharing: Clarifies states’ ability to access and share data from prescription drug monitoring program databases, including with providers and managed care entities.
  • Clarifying FDA Packaging: Clarifies FDA’s authority to require drug manufacturers to package certain opioids to allow for a set treatment duration– for example, a blister pack with a 3-day or 7-day supply. Also requires the FDA to provide patients with simple and safe options to dispose of unused opioids, such as safe disposal packaging or safe disposal systems for purposes of rendering unused drugs non-retrievable.
  • Hospice Authority for Disposal: Provides certain health professionals in qualified hospice programs the legal authority to dispose of controlled substances in the hospice setting to help reduce the risk of diversion or misuse.
  • COPS Anti-Meth Program: Helps state law enforcement agencies with high seizures of precursor chemicals, methamphetamine, and laboratories for the purpose of investigation.
  • COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Program: Supports local task forces which will function through statewide collaboration with the greater effort to dismantle the distribution of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, or the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids. 

Encourages Prevention and Recovery

  • Opioid Treatment Workforce Shortage: Requires loan repayment to behavioral health providers practicing in substance use disorder treatment facilities in mental health professional shortage areas. Senator Murkowski was the lead Republican of this standalone legislation with Senators Donnelly and Hassan, the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, to ensure we have enough workers to address those who are struggling with substance abuse.
  • Family-Focused Residential Treatment: Makes states eligible to receive funding to provide evidence-based substance abuse prevention and treatment services to families with children at risk of entering foster care.
  • Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers: Authorizes a grant program for entities to establish or operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers that serve as a resource for the community.
  • CAREER Act: Authorizes the Secretary of HHS to establish a grant program to help individuals recovering from a substance use disorder transition to independent living and the workforce. 
  • Programs for Healthcare Workforce: Requires grant recipients to develop a comprehensive education and training plan which would include information on the dangers of opioid abuse, early warning signs of opioid use disorders, safe disposal options, and other innovative deactivation mechanisms. Also updates pain care programs to include alternatives to opioid pain treatment and by promoting non-addictive and non-opioid pain treatments, and non-pharmacologic treatment.
  • Health Education Programs: Updates mental and behavioral health education and training grant program to include trauma-informed care and amends the eligible entities to include tribal health programs. 

Supports Caregivers and Families

  • Caring Recovery: Clarifies states’ ability under Medicaid to provide care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome in residential pediatric recovery centers, as well as those centers’ option to provide counseling or other services to mothers or caretakers provided those services are otherwise covered.
  • Help for Moms and Babies: Improves plans of safe care and support for substance-exposed babies and their mothers by modifying the Social Security Act to ensure that pregnant and postpartum women receiving care for substance use disorders in an IMD can continue to receive other Medicaid-covered care outside of the IMD, such as prenatal services.
  • Early Interventions for Pregnant Women and Infants: Requires the development of educational materials for clinicians to use with pregnant women for shared decision-making regarding pain management during pregnancy.
  • Youth and Prevention and Recovery: Reinforces the use of best practices and issue grants for prevention of and recovery from substance use disorder in children, adolescents and young adults. 
  • Task force on Trauma-Informed Care: Creates an interagency task force to make recommendations on preventing and mitigating the effects of trauma on infants, children, youth, and their families.

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