- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A House panel advanced a series of opioid bills Wednesday that would link overdose victims to treatment before leaving the emergency room, let hospice workers get rid of unused pills and spur the National Institutes of Health to find non-addictive solutions for pain.

All told, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved 25 bills aimed at reining in the addiction crisis that’s killing tens of thousands of Americans per year.

If enacted into the law, the measures would expand the use of “mail-back pouches” to destroy unused pain medication and help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combat rates of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other diseases tied to intravenous drug use.

Patients covered by Medicare would see changes, too. Doctors would have to transmit prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs electronically — to reduce the number of fraudulent or manipulated scripts — and enrollees would learn about the potential dangers of using opioids.

The American Hospital Association said Wednesday it supports the proposals.

The committee will mark up additional measures next week, as Chairman Greg Walden pushes to get opioid legislation on the House floor by Memorial Day.

“We know there is no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all approach that will remedy the catastrophic effects of this crisis over the last decade,” the Oregon Republican said. “But much can be done to help vulnerable patients get the treatment they want and need, and to ensure these powerful drugs are not getting into the wrong hands.”

Opioid overdoses are killing more Americans per year than the HIV/AIDS epidemic did at its height in the mid-1990s, as legions of Americans who got hooked on prescription painkillers turn to heroin laced with deadly fentanyl. Experts estimate 50,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016, or slightly higher than the roughly 48,000 who died of AIDS at its peak in 1995.

Congress’ efforts to grapple with the crisis in a midterm election year have remained bipartisan, yet Democrats say the piecemeal approach pushed by GOP leaders doesn’t go far enough.

“We need to make sure we’re not nibbling around the edges of this opioids crisis,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat.

A bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings would spend $100 billion on the crisis over 10 years and is modeled after landmark “Ryan White CARE Act” enacted in 1990 to deal with HIV/AIDS, though it’s unclear if GOP leaders are willing to make that kind of taxpayer investment. Congress already approved nearly $4 billion for the opioids fight as part of a massive spending bill in March.

Democrats also fumed Wednesday over White House proposals that could curtail federal spending on Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor.

“We should be talking about expanding Medicaid, not cutting it,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat. “Plain and simple, cutting Medicaid hurts people suffering from substance abuse disorder.”

Despite grumbles, Democrats offered and supported bills that would either expand treatment or prevent more people from abusing opioids.

Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan said her push to give NIH fiscal authority to develop non-addictive pain treatments alongside private companies is driven by personal experience.

She said her husband, former Rep. John D. Dingell, needs doctor-prescribed opioids to deal with chronic pain, though he worries about getting hooked on them.

“One thing we can all agree on is that we need more alternatives for opioids in this country,” she said. “This way, we can give people the relief they need from crippling pain, while not subjecting them to the risk of addiction.”

Legislation by Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania would extend grant funding to emergency rooms, especially in rural areas, to ensure overdose patients gain treatment immediately or a “warm handoff” to specialists who can help them get clean.

Mr. McKinley also championed a bipartisan bill with Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell that funds ER programs to try out non-opioid methods for managing pain, citing the success of one such pilot project in Paterson, New Jersey.

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 Health and Human Services Department to come up with best practices for hospitals and physicians to share the information.

Authored by Rep. Tim Walberg and Mrs. Dingell, 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 oxycodone pills.

“She was given 50 pills when she was discharged and she was dead the next day,” Mrs. Dingell said.

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