Approaching Midterm Elections, Congress Moves on Opioid Bills

September 28, 2018

By: Matthew Rubin and Libby Baney, Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting

With the end of the federal fiscal year quickly approaching and the 2018 midterm elections taking place in November, the United States House of Representatives and US Senate have begun to advance several significant pieces of legislation aimed at combating the opioid epidemic. These various bills fall into one of two buckets: (1) those which expand access to treatment and recovery services, and (2) those which provide additional funding to federal, state, and local partners who serve on the front line. Before the November election, Congress plans to debate and vote on one combined, comprehensive package with the goal of furthering the national response to the opioid epidemic.

To recap the legislative history:

  • In June 2018, the House passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) by a vote of 396-14.
  • More recently, in mid-September, the Senate passed a similar bill, the Opioid Crisis Response Actby a vote of 99-1.
  • The bills moved with bipartisan support through both chambers, including provisions for a wide array of members across several committees of jurisdiction.

As the text between the House and Senate bills are not identical, both chambers must work collaboratively now to reconcile differences between the language and arrive at consensus text for ultimate approval by both chambers and signature into law by President Donald Trump. Reports have noted that members of the House and Senate already began preliminary discussions, even before the Senate version had passed, around reaching a compromise and advancing the legislation. Major differences involve issues related to privacy protections under 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2 and changes to the Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion under Medicaid. Other provisions such as Senator Rob Portman’s STOP Act, electronic prescribing of controlled substances (CS), and improvements to state prescription drug monitoring programs have also garnered support in both chambers.

Also, this month, members of Congress pressed the issue of CS sold online and the impact on the opioid epidemic during hearings with two social media executives: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jack Dorsey. Pressure from members of Congress around the online sale of prescription drugs and CS should sound familiar as Representative David McKinley and colleagues in both the House and Senate grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the topic during several April 2018 hearings. The continued discussion on Capitol Hill around the ease in which consumers are exposed to the advertisement and sale of prescription drugs and illicit narcotics online demonstrates the ongoing need for protections, such as NABP’s .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, to ensure consumer safety and public health online.