Carper, Coons applaud passage of package to fight opioid crisis in Delaware

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.) applauded the passage of the bipartisan SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. The legislative package, which passed the Senate and House and is expected to be signed into law by the President, will provide critical tools to help states like Delaware combat the opioid epidemic. The bill comes as Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services has found that more people died in August of suspected drug overdoses in a single month than ever before in Delaware.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act includes provisions that would give the FDA the authority to require specific packaging for opioids, lifts restrictions on which health care professionals can prescribe medication to treat addiction, makes changes to Medicaid and Medicare to make it easier to pay for addiction treatment, improves coordination between federal agencies to better detect illicit drugs, and provides support for research on non-addictive pain killers, among other provisions. 

The sweeping opioids package that the Senate passed today is a significant step in the right direction as we continue to work to combat a crisis that has plagued communities coast to coast, including many in the First State,” said Senator Carper. “In recent months, Delaware’s fight against the opioid epidemic has proven particularly difficult, but with smart, effective solutions like those that Senator Coons and I were able to include in this legislation, we will be able to make progress and save lives. My two bipartisan bills included in this package will help to ensure that those suffering from addiction can get the life-saving treatment they need more quickly, even if they happen to be living in less accessible areas or far away from health care providers. I’m proud that Congress could find common ground and come together to pass practical solutions to address this crisis that has claimed far too many lives.”  

“Congress must do more to protect communities that have been plagued by the opioid epidemic and the illegal distribution of prescription medications,” said Senator Coons. “I’m pleased that Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass this legislation today, and I’m proud that this package includes a commonsense provision based on my bill with Senator Gardner, that requires GAO to submit to Congress a report analyzing the utility of real-time reporting of suspicious orders by the Drug Enforcement Agency. While this bill is a significant milestone, we have more work to do to ensure Congress provides the funding necessary to really make a difference in this epidemic.  I plan to use my role on the Appropriations Committee to fight for increased funding for our communities. I’m eager to continue working with my colleagues to keep our communities safer and healthier.”

One of Senator Carper’s bills, the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act (S.2904), will require Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance to streamline, improve, and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid to treat substance and opioid abuse, particularly among children, adult populations under the age of 40, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and children receiving services in school-based health centers. Telehealth – which is the ability to provide healthcare services remotely to patients living in rural or less accessible areas – has expanded services throughout Delaware. This bill would further improve those services for underserved and vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicaid.

The second piece of legislation, the Electronic Prior Authorization in Medicare Part D Act (S.2908), which Senator Carper introduced with Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), would improve and increase the use of electronic prior authorization, frequently called e-prior authorization, in Medicare Part D so that patients would receive faster access to alternatives to opioid medications for chronic and acute pain and improved access to medication-assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction. In 2015 alone, Delaware doctors wrote nearly 800,000 prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, which amounts to 80 prescriptions for every 100 persons. Through this legislation, patients would be able to get the alternatives to opioids and medication-assisted treatment more quickly, which could help save lives throughout the First State.

The GAO report included in the bill is based on Senators Coons’ and Gardner’s bill, The DEA Clearinghouse Act of 2018 (S.3282). Currently, no law enforcement agency or private party has the ability to provide real-time, nationwide oversight of all orders for controlled substances, which is a major contributing factor to disproportionate prescription opioid shipments to certain pharmacies across the country. The DEA Clearinghouse Act of 2018 eliminates this blind spot exploited by bad actors, guards against prescription drug diversion, and protects the integrity of the supply chain by requiring DEA to establish a national, real-time clearinghouse for all orders of controlled substances to identify suspicious orders and notify suppliers before the orders are filled.