Carper, Coons Applaud Senate Passage of Critical Funding to Fight Opioid Addiction Crisis

Bipartisan legislation to improve and speed access to treatment for opioid addiction now one step closer to becoming law

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.) applauded the passage of the bipartisan Opioids Crisis Response Act of 2018 (H.R. 6). The legislative package, which passed the Senate this evening by a vote of 99-1, will provide critical funding to help states like Delaware combat the opioid epidemic. The funding 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 package will now head to a conference committee for reconciliation with the House of Representatives’ version of the bill.

The Opioids Crisis Response Act of 2018 is the culmination of work done by five Senate committees and more than 70 legislators and includes provisions that would give the FDA the authority to require specific packaging for opioids, increase treatment access for those in recovery, support for research on non-addictive pain killers, and also includes the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would help stop the flow of illegal drugs coming into the United States. The STOP Act builds on the work Senators Carper and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the leaders of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, did earlier this year to expose how easy it is to buy deadly opioids online and have them shipped through the mail to the U.S.  

The package also includes two bipartisan bills co-authored by Senator Carper that would help to improve and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid in order to better treat substance abuse and opioid abuse and also allow Medicare patients to access alternatives to opioid medications more quickly and easily. 

The package will now head to a conference committee with hopes of final passage later this year.

The Opioids Crisis Response Act of 2018, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate tonight, is a major step forward in our efforts to combat the deadly opioid crisis with smart and effective policies that we know will help save lives,” said Senator Carper. “Delaware has most certainly not been immune to this crisis with opioids taking hundreds of lives each year, tearing families apart and putting an unsustainable strain on our emergency rooms and first responders. Last month alone, 39 Delawareans lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses. That’s 39 families in the First State whose lives have been altered forever, and 39 deaths that might have been prevented. I’m proud to have authored portions of this package and commend my Senate colleagues for coming together to pass bipartisan and common sense solutions that will help address this heartbreaking public health crisis in a meaningful way. While there is no silver bullet to solve this epidemic, substantive legislation like The Opioids Crisis Response Act of 2018 will help to implement practical solutions that can help prevent more tragedies in Delaware and around the country.”

“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. 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 clearinghouse for all orders of controlled substances and requiring that all controlled substance orders pass through an automated database to identify suspicious orders and notify suppliers before the orders are filled.

Taken together, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, will help to ensure that vulnerable populations in the First State, including children, seniors and low-income families, will not be forgotten in the fight against addiction.