- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A key House panel announced plans Wednesday to debate more than two dozen bills targeting the opioids crisis, from speeding approval of painkilling alternatives to linking ER patients with treatment after they overdose.

The Energy and Commerce Committee will also consider legislation to let doctors know if patients have a history of addiction, to study how many teens are using injectable drugs, and to boost efforts to interdict fentanyl, a synthetic opioid blamed for the recent spike in overdose deaths.

Some 25 bills will be on the calendar during a two-day hearing next week, as GOP leaders try to put muscle behind President Trump’s decision to treat opioids addiction as a public health emergency.

“These bipartisan bills have the potential to make a number of meaningful reforms to combat the opioid crisis,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Full committee Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, wants to put an opioids package on the House floor by Memorial Day.

Opioid-related overdoses killed 42,000 people in 2016, and early estimates suggest the problem worsened in 2017 and will surpass the AIDS epidemic’s toll at its height in the mid-1990s.

Congress struck a budget agreement that provides $6 billion to fight the opioids epidemic over this year and in 2019.

It is a “record” amount of funding to combat opioids, Mr. Walden has noted, though some advocates and Democrats have pushed for more.

“We’re happy to have the opportunity to make the case for our proposals for both legislative action and meaningful funding to address the opioid epidemic, but we think there is a lot more that needs to be done in this arena to properly address the crisis,” said C.J. Young, spokesman for Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat.

GOP committee aides said they are open to the idea of posting even more money, though for now, they’ve focusing on passing policy changes.

They will have to reconcile their efforts with the Senate, where a bipartisan group released a sequel to a 2016 opioids law, known as “CARA,” designed to direct the surge in federal dollars toward programs that work.

Off Capitol Hill, the Justice Department has cracked down on fentanyl trafficking, while Mr. Trump has suggested in public remarks that he’d like to explore the death penalty for certain drug dealers.

In their package of bills, House Republicans eye a big role for the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates and approves drugs.

One plan would ensure that treatments for substance abuse would be eligible for programs that speed treatments through the agency’s pipeline.

A bill by Rep. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican, would set data standards for companies that want to push drugs that can be used in place of opioids — and say so on their labels.

And a measure by Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, would clarify that FDA officials can use the potential for misuse and abuse as part of its assessment of opioid drugs.

Elsewhere, Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio wants the Health and Human Services Department to publish an online dashboard of nationwide efforts and strategies to combat the opioids epidemic, while a bipartisan measure by Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Hal Rogers of Kentucky would repay up to $250,000 in student loans for physicians, registered nurses and social workers who agree to treat substance abuse in areas with the greatest need.

Richard Ausness, a law professor at University of Kentucky who tracks the issue, said a couple of the bills stood out, including an effort by Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, New Hampshire Democrat, to provide grant funding for public health laboratories that detect synthetic opioids driving the overdose problem and a bill by Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma Republican, that would set aside $25 million in grant funding for Indian Country. Tribes would be able to apply for funding directly from the federal government, instead of their states.

“Addiction among Indian tribes seems to be a particular serious problem and merits a high priority response,” he said. “The same is true of fentanyl overdose deaths.”

Another bill, known as “Jessie’s Law,” that would ensure that doctors have access to a consenting patient’s record of drug addiction, before prescribing treatment. It orders the HHS to come up with best practices for hospitals and physicians to share the information.

Authored by Reps. Tim Walberg and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, the bill was named for Jessie Grubb, a West Virginia native who died from opioid overdose following surgery in Michigan for a running-related injury.

Though her parents traveled to Michigan to tell doctors and hospital workers about her addiction history — she’d gotten clean and was building a new life — the discharging doctor wasn’t informed and prescribed her 50 oxycodone pills.

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