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Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

U.S. House approves 10 healthcare bills, including several targeting opioid crisis

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved 10 healthcare bills, including several aimed at tackling the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The measures advanced today aim to address some of the many challenges Americans are facing during this public health emergency, and we hope these bills are quickly passed by the Senate and signed into law,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), ranking member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a joint statement with committee members U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY).

The Republican lawmakers pointed out that the House-approved bills build off lessons learned from Energy and Commerce Committee investigations into the root causes of the opioid crisis, support programs to help victims of violent trauma, and address disparities in health outcomes also impacted by the pandemic.

For instance, the House also passed bills to increase competition in the prescription drug market, update drug labeling laws, and increase the food allergy data collection at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. 

“As we’ve said before, now is not the time to let our foot off the gas in combating the opioid crisis,” the members said. “Not only is the opioid epidemic worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also seeing an uptick in violent crimes.”

Among the 10 House-approved bills is the bipartisan State Opioid Response Grant Authorization Act of 2020, H.R. 2466, introduced in May 2019 by U.S. Reps. David Trone (D-MD) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) to reauthorize the State Opioid Response Grants program that is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through fiscal year 2024. 

H.R. 2466 also would authorize $9 billion over six years in flexible funding for State Opioid Response Grants and Tribal Opioid Response Grants to fight the opioid epidemic on the front lines, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Trone’s office. 

“State, local and tribal governments need to know the federal government will be a steady partner in the fight against addiction,” said Rep. Trone, a member of the Commission to Combat Synthetic Opioid Trafficking and founder of the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction. “We need consistent, guaranteed funding because there is no magic bullet or vaccine to fix the opioid crisis that has killed over 550,000 people since 2000 and continues to get worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Another opioid-related bill receiving House approval yesterday was the bipartisan Easy Medication Access and Treatment for Opioid Addiction Act, or the Easy MAT for Opioid Addiction Act, H.R. 2281, sponsored last year by U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA). 

Specifically, the measure would require the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to revise regulations to allow a practitioner to administer up to a three-day supply of narcotic drugs to an individual at one time for purposes of relieving acute withdrawal symptoms while the individual awaits arrangements for narcotic treatment, according to the congressional record bill summary, which noted that current regulations authorize up to a one-day supply of narcotic drugs for an individual at one time, for a total of up to three days.

Also receiving approval from the House was the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act of 2019, H.R. 4812, introduced by bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for the modification, transfer and termination of a registration to manufacture, distribute or dispense controlled substances or list I chemicals, according to the text of the bill. 

If enacted, H.R. 4812 would terminate the controlled substance registration of any registrant if the registrant dies, ceases legal existence, discontinues business or professional practice, or surrenders registration. A registrant who ceases legal existence or discontinues business would be required to notify the DEA, which then would provide registrants with written consent to assign or transfer a registration.

Registrants also would be required to return certain documentation if a registrant’s work is discontinued, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Griffith’s office.

“The opioid crisis grew in part due to the abuse of opioids legally manufactured and sold,” Rep. Griffith said on Tuesday. “My bill, the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act, would reform [DEA] regulations to close legal loopholes that could enable opioid abuse. I am proud to sponsor this small but important fix that will assist in fighting the opioid epidemic that has hurt too many.”

All 10 of the House-approved healthcare bills now head to the U.S. Senate for action.