WASHINGTON — The House spent much of the last two weeks passing dozens of bills aimed at addressing the opioid crisis, an effort top lawmakers from both parties have long identified as a priority.

Many are consensus proposals, though a few have generated controversy. Some are substantial in their scope, though many fund pilot programs or studies, or enact grants for which funding will expire within years.

Outside experts, while applauding Congress for its focus on the issue, say they believe the current package fails to match the scope of the current crisis.


Politics, too, have played a role, with midterms looming this November. Republicans have been criticized for dividing the package into 57 bills with, accordingly, 57 or more GOP lawmakers who can claim credit for working to address the epidemic.

It also remains unclear exactly how and when the Senate will craft its own legislation. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the legislation was a priority but acknowledged the Senate does not have a specific timeline for opioids legislation.

Lobbyists and Democratic congressional staffers have predicted that McConnell will wait until November — so that the roughly one dozen vulnerable Democrats in hard-hit states like West Virginia can’t advertise a “yes” vote on opioids legislation.

The House is expected to finish its opioids work this week. Here’s a look at some of the most impactful bills, and which proposals or policy ideas didn’t make the cut.

What’s in the package:

1. Evidence-based treatment: One bill, lawmakers and outside experts have said, is a common-sense proposal that has never formally been enacted: a requirement that any addiction treatment program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration exclusively fund evidence-based treatment. Such legislation is likely to shift federally funded treatment toward addiction medicines coupled with counseling and away from abstinence-based programs. A large majority of Americans with opioid addiction do not receive medication-based treatment, which is shown to substantially reduce overdose deaths.

2. Waiving the IMD exclusion — kind of: Many behavioral health advocates have long pushed to waive a restriction known as the institutions for mental diseases (IMD) exclusion, which prevents Medicaid from reimbursing for inpatient mental health or addiction treatment at facilities with more than 16 beds. Many believe the restriction has proven a bottleneck to addiction treatment; others have expressed concern that care delivered in many such facilities is not effective and that appropriate addiction treatment, more often than not, takes place in outpatient settings.

The House package makes it easier for states to waive the IMD exclusion, but the bill expires in five years.

3. Expanded access to buprenorphine: A controversial House bill would preserve the right of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a controlled substance, meaning it requires special permission to prescribe, and the bill also allows doctors to prescribe the drug to up to 100 patients immediately after they obtain a waiver.

4. A movement away from opioids for pain treatment: A bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee aims to ensure there are no “misaligned financial incentives” to prescribe opioids via Medicare — a challenge for physicians, given the low cost of generic opioids and the many pricier options for medical devices or non-opioid medicines to treat pain.

5. Changes to medical privacy laws: After intense debate that had little to do with partisan politics, the House voted to authorize the disclosure of a patient’s history with a substance use disorder without the patient’s consent — a policy change specific to addiction treatment. The legislation’s backers say it could prevent doctors from prescribing opioids to patients with a history of addiction. Groups that favor stricter privacy standards have expressed concern that the change could prevent some individuals from seeking treatment.

What’s not:

1. Harm reduction: The package does little to further some of the most progressive ideas championed by some cities in the United States and Canada.

Namely, it does not expand syringe exchange services, which have been shown to reduce infectious disease transmission among injection drug users. It also does not change laws prohibiting supervised injection sites, though cities including San Francisco, New York, and Denver have expressed interest in pilot programs aimed at reducing overdoses. And the bill does not include a requirement that the overdose-reversal drug naloxone be co-prescribed with opioids, an increasingly popular concept for pain patients viewed as at high overdose risk.

2. Methadone treatment expansion for Medicare and Medicaid: A recent study found methadone to be the most effective drug in reducing mortality related to opioid addiction, followed by buprenorphine. Medicare programs as a whole historically have not covered methadone treatment for opioid use disorder, and a number of state Medicaid programs similarly cover buprenorphine but not methadone. The bills passed by the House allow more flexibility for Medicare, but do not fully address the Medicaid gap.

3. More parity enforcement: A proposal endorsed by Labor Secretary Alex Acosta would have given the federal government the authority to fine insurers who violate parity law — which requires equivalent coverage for physical and behavioral health conditions. An effort in the Senate to introduce such a provision fizzled, and the House did not address the issue.

4. Mandatory prescriber education: A House committee at one point had discussed the prospect of stricter limits on first-time opioid prescriptions and mandatory prescriber training for doctors. Neither policy is included among the House bills, though some legislation would create stricter oversight for opioid prescriptions and better monitoring for at-risk patients.

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  • I think this is just what the government wants. The suicides from pain will be high. But hey let’s reduce the overpopulation. Our government is corrupt. Anyway to keep their money coming in. They don’t care how they do it and don’t care who they step on to get it. I don’t feel this is a government…its dictatorship.

  • I have been on opioid for years. 3 surgeries in same spot. Metal in my back. Severe arthritis, fibromyalgia. My Dr was shut down under investigation. Because of the crisis I can’t even find a pcp that will take me because of the prior opioid use. It is not fair to the people on Medicare and Medicaid that really need it. People that are well off can get those drugs without or with a Dr because they pay for it. The government is only stopping the poor people who are left out in the cold and can’t do a thing about it. I was told I would get help but that never came. Doctors are afraid and of course the government only sees things one way. The ones who abuse it will get it. The ones who need will suffer.

  • Why do you want me to stop living my life? I can’t do anything without pain medication . Please don’t do this to my family and me . I have MS and my back has alot wrong. Please listen to the people who live in pain everyday

  • This opioid crisis is real. People that want the help should have access to getting help. Like the first commenter above said Medicare won’t even help pay for methadone let alone foot the entire monthly bill. Methadone is an option for chronic pain sufferers that their doctor won’t, can’t, or is afraid of the government regulations prescribe you the proper medications. Even half the monthly bill would be great. Especially when you never had a dirty urinalysis for long periods of time. That proves you are serious about your treatment goals or contempt with the opioid instead of Doctor shopping like most addicts attempt. Talking or giving 1/3 of your limited income is serious stuff especially when you don’t have extra cash monthly. We need help and something tells me that if I were in some caravan invasion line south of the border I would get fast monthly HELP at the drop of a hat. Hmmm something doesn’t seem fair in America anymore? Please Congress/Senate do your job and help the people that put you there. Americans first please!

  • Where can long time methadone maintenance, who shows it works for someone hooked for 25 years on opioids, get a break on the cost if they aren’t on medicare or medicaid. I pay $105 weekly some linger months it comes to we’ll over $500. I get a break ($2 dollars a day) because I get take homes and always give a clean urine. I
    make $1500 a month. That is a 1/3 of my Gross income. Ridiculous, but necessary.
    Thanks for listening and for taking steps to help some.

  • My Physician has prescribed morphine sulphate for 5 years, advising I would need it for the remainder of my life. Now I’ve been referred to a pain specialist who is telling me the government is forcing physicians to reduce the amount until it is no longer prescribed, as government will disallow it completely within a year. At present it has been reduced to half, and decreased my mobility by a similar percent. The theory is to wean addicts from it, but when it’s taken to prevent pain, then taken away, where does that leave those who genuinely suffer debilitating pain. Every physician I’ve spoken with say the government is insane behaving as if it knows better than physicians what patient needs are, but are threatened with loss of license if they don’t do as government dictates.

    Having given a lot of thought, and research to try and understand government motives. AG Jeff Sessions claims it is to save lives. However according to the CDC, in a same year Opioids abuse attributed to 33000 deaths, Alcohol Abuse attributed to 88000 deaths, yet Jeff Sessions ignores this fact, and is silent on Alcohol Abuse deaths. This removes all credibility to the moral cause of Jeff Sessions crusade against Opioids.

    One wonders, Seeing the US Military guarding the Poppy Fields in Afghanistan, thereby Controlling Supply. This means the government is buying the opioid production of Afghanistan that’s said to be 80% of world production. Why this is one only need Follow the Money.

    It appears gov is supplying the drug cartels via cia clandestine operations as they’ve been proven to do in the past. While another arm of gov in the dea busts the street dealers, raking in billions its said, in unaccounted for money, that disappears into the shadows of the shadow gov. When the US Treasury should be the direct recipient of all illegal drug bust money, and count it as income, to be used to pay down the deficit, and be placed in the Congressional Budget, but that doesn’t happen! Yet it Should. A reverse laundering of illegal money, returning it to the legitimate economy, yet that doesn’t happen!

    Looking at that, one wonders why gov wants to stop lawful prescriptions, as it certainly is not for the moral reason gov claims, otherwise gov would Prohibit Alcohol that causes three times as many deaths.

    So why prohibit lawful prescriptions! Once again, Follow the Money. By gov cutting off the lawful supply, gov creates a New Black Market Demand, which gov knows people will resort to the street for pain relief, or the alternative of suicide, as a known fact.

    By controlling the Supply, cutting it off, gov seeks to Control Demand, and the magnified Profits by creating Demand from the street, while the gov arm of the dea rakes in More Profits busting the street dealers. Once more there will be No Accounting of the billions in profits that disappear down the rabbit hole to the control of the shadow government, rather than returned to the Treasury, and entered into the Congressional Budget, and pay down the deficit, as Should be done.

    The Shadow Government (Globalists) are operating in plain view, having the vested interest placed in the Attorney General who is the primary operative of the Shadow Government Funding through his New War on Drugs focused on depriving Americans living with debilitating pain, to have no relief, and increased suffering. As he infamously made the stupid remark, telling anyone using lawfully prescribed Opioids, “take 2 Aspirin & Tough it out”! As if he knows more, and better that Studied Learned, Licensed Physicians!

    One would easily conclude the AG is a Moron for that kind of remark … But when one Follows the Money, it appears the AG is not the moron he pretends to be, but far worse, a Criminal in one of the Highest Offices of the Land, in charge of the flow of money in his New War on Drugs, but his favored drug has become his crusade for Profits flowing to the hands of those in the shadow government, used to fund God knows what in all the covert schemes!
    Think about that!

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