Update from Capitol Hill

The opioid epidemic in the United States has brought together both Republicans and Democrats in a rare sign of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, but more work remains. Over the past several months, congressional committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate have worked on legislative packages that will help stem the tide of opioid abuse and overdose deaths in the United States. With over 115 American dying every day of opioid overdose[1], members of Congress are eager to tackle this epidemic that impacts all states and all citizens. However, their work could be improved by a focus on preventing opioid misuse by improving access to non-opioid options for postsurgical pain management.

In June, the House of Representatives passed a large package of legislation tackling the opioid epidemic. Consisting of 58 bills, the package addressed a range of issues including access to recovery services and reducing abuse of fentanyl. The package included the Todd Graham Pain Management Act, H.R. 6110, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), which directs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to study Medicare barriers to accessing non-opioids, but did not take direct action to address the immediate problem of patient access to these therapies.

Congresswoman Walorski (R-IN), joined by Terri Sewell (D-AL), also sent a letter to CMS asking them to examine the barriers of access to non-opioid options immediately. This can be viewed by clicking here. This letter draws attention to CMS policies that are prohibiting patients and doctors from making personal decisions regarding how they will manage their pain because of lack of access to non-opioid options.

The United States Senate has been slower to advance its legislative packages, but continues its work towards a final package that will likely be voted on in the next several months. The committees of jurisdiction, including Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) as well as the Committee on Finance, have held hearings on the topic of fighting opioid abuse. In April, the HELP Committee passed a comprehensive package that includes 40 provisions from 38 different senators to help stop fentanyl at the border, reduce inappropriate prescribing, and accelerate research on non-addictive pain medicines.

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is currently seeking a Democratic cosponsor on legislation that would increase access to non-opioid options. Advocates for this legislation have been on the Hill this summer pressing for changes to CMS policy that would increase patient access to non-opioid options and decrease the need for opioids in the postsurgical setting.

From the Executive Branch, the Trump Administration convened the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which offered The Administration continues to work closely with both chambers of the United States Congress on progressing a final legislative package.

  1. [1] Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2017. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.


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