Congressional task force lays out a plan for fighting opioid addiction
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is writing a prescription for new drug policy.
The group of 100, including the co-chairman, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks, Wednesday laid out an aggressive agenda that includes 17 bills aimed at reducing deaths related to opioid and heroin addiction.
Their legislation would prohibit pharmacists from filling prescriptions more than two days after they are written, require doctors to prescribe the lowest effective dose of opioids and to simultaneously prescribe a non-opioid alternative, and limit providers to prescribing a 10-day supply at a time for acute pain.
House members unveiled their package Wednesday, the same day Gov. Tom Wolf declared an opioid emergency in Pennsylvania and pledged to use state resources to fight the problem. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country for the number of drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr. Fitzpatrick is sponsoring or co-sponsoring several bills. One would increase medical school requirements for coursework on addiction. Another would equip border crossings with devices that detect synthetic opioids. A third expands access to substance abuse treatment for Medicaid patients.
U.S. Reps. Nikki Tsongas, D-N.Y. and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, have a bill to end an exclusion that prevents incarcerated people from receiving Medicaid reimbursement for substance abuse treatment.
U.S. Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, want to provide $150 million in grants to provide access to the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone along with training on how to administer it. The grants would be funded by fees of $80 – the cost of one dose of Naloxone – paid for by people convicted of drug crimes.
Other bills in the task force’s package would expand access to medication-assisted treatment, provide funding to hire outreach specialists to work with veterans in drug treatment courts, establish a center for research on pain, create residential pediatric centers to treat neonatal exposure to opioids, and allow people to use tax-advantaged funds in health savings accounts to pay for any family member’s drug treatment.
“Each one of these bills addresses different aspects of the crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, who is on the task force.
“Every person who gets trapped in addiction is a person who, frankly, we need in the game, who we need contributing to society. We needed the gifts and talents of that person, and when you get trapped in addiction, you can’t give them,” he said.
A fiscal hawk, Mr. Rothfus said he supports funding for the legislative package as long as it puts money toward programs that are effective.
Republicans and Democrats from all parts of the country have signed on to the task force, which was formed in 2014.
“Issues like this bring us all together,” said U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio. “It takes a lot of creative minds to come up with the right ideas on how to cure this problem.”