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House Discusses Opioid Epidemic

On March 21 and 22, Congress discussed options to address the opioid addiction crisis in this country. The Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health discussed a wide variety of legislation proposals to try and curb the progression of this unprecedented public health epidemic. Over 20 legislative bills were discussed by a panel of experts over the two days to try and provide a solution.

Some of the main ideas focused on improving opioid prescription monitoring, improving research, educating the community and public about opioids, and enforcing stricter regulations on prescription and treatment. A panel of experts spoke about the importance of each bill and discussed why there is a need for adjustments.
For example, Dr. Anne Schuchat, Acting Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), highlighted the importance of good and accessible data in her witness statement, also telling Chairman Latta, “This has been a fast-moving epidemic and we have seen changes in the principle factors that are driving it. So, the more timely our data are, the more rapidly we can target interventions.”

Members of Congress focused on ways to improve monitoring as a way to address any disconnect between physicians prescribing the medications and patient medical history. Multiple bills discuss the importance of allowing substance abuse disorder (SUD) information to be accessed by physicians when coming up with treatment options. According to proposals, the data release will still be in accordance to HIPAA, but it will allow physicians to access SUD records without the patient’s permission, streamlining the treatment process. AAOS has previously expressed to Congress the importance of “efforts that would create a uniform electronic format for reporting, increase sharing and disclosing information, create standards for interoperability, and make information available to physicians on a timely basis.”

The discussion then shifted towards the need to increase research findings. Many bills focused on providing grants that would increase funding for state and federal research grants. These grants include increased emphasis on new and alternative pain medications, increased monitoring capacities of public health laboratories focusing on fentanyl and synthetic opioids, programs to limit opioid use in hospitals and emergency settings, and support for community based SUD treatment and management.

Ms. Cartier Esham, Executive Vice President, Emerging Companies, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), told the subcommittee that, “The current state of innovation for next generation pain and addiction therapies holds promise but requires a more conducive policy environment focused on enabling access and incentivizing the investment needed to unleash the full potential innovation to change the paradigm of treatment and improve the lives of patients. Today, less than four percent of total venture investment in the biopharmaceutical sector is being directed into companies whose lead product is a novel pain therapy.”

There were also specific calls to action on the educational front of the opioid crisis. Congress called on the Surgeon General to release a report on the effects of opioid use in youth ages 12 to 18. Experts asserted that if these findings are available, it would provide better support for programs across the nation. Additionally, the SAMHSA was encouraged to publish its research findings on effective operating recovery housing to encourage replication of these interventions across the nation.

Finally, increased regulatory power was also discussed in some of the bills. The Commissioner of the FDA and the head of the CDC emphasized the importance of boosting federal regulatory powers in regards to monitoring opioid prescriptions and drug related diseases. Bills were suggested that would allow the FDA to set up and monitor packaging and disposal of opioids, looking at new ways to limit misuse and abuse. One such bill allows the Government Accountability Office to look into new technology focusing on the disposing of excess opioids like the widely publicized polymer based compound marketed by DisposeRxTM.

With all of this discussion about what to do about the opioid crisis, it is important to sty updated on the latest news regarding federal interventions. The AAOS is committed at keeping our members up to date on this ongoing public health epidemic. For more information on AAOS advocacy efforts related to opioids, visit https://www.aaos.org/Advocacy/FDA/.