With a key U.S. Senate vote yesterday, the country moved one step closer to comprehensively addressing the scourge of heroin and painkiller abuse that’s killing tens of thousands every year. Some, however, feels there is still a long way to go without any new funding attached to the legislation.
In a rare showing of bipartisan agreement, the Senate voted 92-2 Wednesday night to approve what’s called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA. That comes after Congress similarly passed such legislation last Friday, with a 407-5 vote. Democrats had considered holding up the bill in hopes of gaining some $920 million in added dollars to address the epidemic, according to The Hill, but ended up approving it rather than stalling. The White House is expected to follow suit, despite the president’s similar desire for additional dollars, but he plans to continue that push in his last months as commander in chief.
“While the president will sign this bill once it reaches his desk because some action is better than none, he won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
CARA incorporates several provisions that were endorsed by the American Hospital Association, the hospital outlined in a bulletin released to members Thursday. Those comprise:
- Creating a multi-agency task force, including a hospital rep, to craft best practices for prescribing opioids and managing pain.
- Adopting more stringent reviews of new opioids by the Food and Drug Administration, before they hit the market.
- Increasing access to drugs that reverse opioid overdoses for first responders and others.
- Bolstering the availability of mediation-assisted treatments, or MAT, for opioids-use disorders.
- Expanding research and treatment for particularly vulnerable populations, such as infants, pregnant women and veterans.
There are several other key provisions in the legislation, the association notes, such as reauthorizing a grant program to help support state prescription drug monitoring program databases, permitting nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide MAT for opioid addiction, and prioritizing the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on alternative pain management strategies. As we explored in our March cover story, the opioid epidemic has been a key concern for the AHA, and it’s compiled a list of tools and best practices to address it, including a new resource for patients and doctors, created in concert with the CDC.
Health care groups, such as the American Medical Association, expressed agreement with what’s laid out in the legislation Thursday, while also pushing for added funding.
“This legislation represents an important step in addressing the public health epidemic of opioid misuse, but it will not be fully realized without new resources to support these programs and policies,” Patrice Harris, M.D., chairwoman of both the AMA board of trustees and its Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers, advocates, physicians and other health care professionals on efforts to prevent addiction and provide treatment for those suffering from substance use disorders."
Similarly, the new super group of advocates called the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose also expressed its support for the bill, calling it a “major public health milestone,” and the “first time in decades” that new legislation has been sent to the president’s desk to address opioid misuse. The group, which includes more than a dozen stakeholders, also urged legislators to take the next step and find funding for these initiatives.
“Our work here is not yet done,” the coalition said in a statement. “It is critically important that money be appropriated to ensure this legislation can have a meaningful impact. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to continue to expand access to treatment and provide needed resources to combat the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic.”