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Opioid Epidemic: Congress Takes a Swing, Passes Bipartisan Legislative Package

By Sarah Martinez, CAFP Policy & Advocacy Intern

In October, the U.S. Senate passed the final version of H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. This act is a bipartisan bill package that aims to combat the opioid crisis. The President signed the bill into law on October 24th. There are four main goals that the opioid bill package will address:

  1. Treatment and Recovery
  2. Prevention
  3. Protecting Communities
  4. Fentanyl Importation

Treatment and recovery: The bill expands treatment opportunities to all local communities, as well as loosens Medicaid restrictions that previously made it difficult for Medicaid patients to gain access to recovery centers or resources. One major change overturned a prohibition on Medicaid covering patients with substance use disorders who were receiving treatment in a mental health facility with more than 16 beds. The bill allows states the option to offer residential treatment coverage regardless of the facility size for up to 30 days. Additionally, the bill requires state Medicaid programs to cover medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and permits Opioid Treatment Providers (OTP’s) to become Medicare providers. The change allows Medicare to now reimburse OTP’s for MAT, whereas patients at an OTP previously had to pay out of pocket. Furthermore, the bill creates a grant program through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), making grants available to establish and operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers. Other provisions require HHS to provide training and technical assistance to community organizations providing peer-support services for substance use disorders.

Prevention: Prevention includes education, improved data tracking to identify high risk patients, encouraging prescribing of non-addictive opioid alternatives, as well as addressing high rates of opioid prescribing. The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to study the effectiveness of state laws, such as that in Colorado, that limit the length, quantity or dosage of opioid prescriptions. The Food and Drug Administration is also directed to establish evidence-based opioid prescribing guidelines for acute pain.

Protecting Communities: The bill aims to achieve this goal by improving access to federal resources for local communities as well as making sure law enforcement has appropriate tools to fight the opioid epidemic. The bill reauthorizes the Office of National Drug Control Policy (NDCP), Drug Free Communities program, and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. It targets funds to implement a coordinated drug overdose response strategy, including protecting law enforcement from accidental narcotics exposure. The NDCP is updated to include annual performance reporting from partner agencies to Congress and the President. Federal agency partners will be required to complete a plan for educating and training medical professionals in best practices for prescribing controlled substances.

Fighting Fentanyl: The STOP act modifies the requirements in package surveillance to detect fentanyl shipped illegally from abroad, and other measures to keep synthetic drugs like fentanyl from making it into the U.S.

Congress appropriated $8.5 billion in September for opioid-related programs including those established in the SUPPORT Act. States will be able to apply for various grants to get federal resources into the most vulnerable and deeply affected communities.

Access a technical outline of the bill through the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.