KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – The U. S. Senate passed sweeping legislation intended to combat the nation’s opioid crisis in a 99-1 vote on Monday evening.
The wide-ranging package known as the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 rolls up 70 bills that will advance research, treatment, awareness and recovery efforts related to opioid abuse that will be backed by about $5 billion in funding.
The bipartisan plan also attempts to strengthen the government’s response to the epidemic through training and coordination between agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Customs and Border Protection as they detect, seize and test drugs, such as fentanyl.
“I think this is an important step forward, really one of many, but an important step forward in fighting this horrendous opioid crisis,” said U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania.
The package also reauthorizes state block grants that sent $26 million dollars to Pennsylvania in 2017 and 2018 to help people suffering from opioid addiction get treatment.
In Pennsylvania, there were more than 5,400 drug-related overdose deaths in 2017 — 800 more than 2016, and a 64 percent increase since 2015.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a statewide disaster to enhance the state’s response and access to treatment. In April, he wrote a letter in support of the federal legislation.
“The bill, designed to address the ongoing heroin and opioid crisis by improving interagency collaboration and the collection, analysis, and sharing of data, will go a long way toward assisting Pennsylvania’s efforts to stem the tide of the epidemic for Pennsylvania families and communities,” Wolf, a Democrat, wrote. “I sincerely appreciate the bipartisan process, including multiple public hearings, that have helped shape this comprehensive piece of legislation.”
Toomey, who chairs the finance subcommittee on health care, says his contributions to the package will beef up monitoring and oversight on how opioids are used through Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“The government buys more opioids than any other entity in the world and as such has a unique responsibility to at least make sure that the opioids that the government is buying for people is being administered in an appropriate way.”
He added that the current system for monitoring people who have experienced a nonfatal overdose is ineffective.
“I was shocked to learn that you could have an overdose of an opioid, survive the overdose and then within a very short time a doctor could prescribe that very same opioid,” said Toomey. “I think that is a clear shortfall we will correct in this legislation.”
Toomey also pushed to increase oversight of physicians who are outliers in the amount of opioids they prescribe and to mandate a digital record for the prescription of controlled substances including opioids.
The Senate must now reconcile its plan with the House of Representatives, which passed its own bill in June.