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Senate health committee voted unanimously to advance extensive, bipartisan opioid response bill after months of bipartisan work spearheaded by Senator Murray, Alexander

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 includes more than 40 proposals, which were considered over seven months of bipartisan hearings, to support families and communities facing the opioid crisis

Bill includes proposals Senator Murray fought for to address the challenges facing children and babies affected by the opioid crisis

Senator Murray: “This bill isn’t just a single step to address the opioid crisis, it is many important steps. But it certainly cannot be the last one”

ICYMI: Senator Murray Unveils New Analysis Showing Opioid Crisis Costs Washington State Billions

***WATCH VIDEO OF SENATOR MURRAY’S SPEECH HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Senate health committee, led by its top Democrat, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), voted unanimously during a committee hearing to advance the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (OCRA), a bipartisan package of more than 40 proposals to help families and communities affected by the opioid crisis that was the result of months of bipartisan hearings and discussion on the opioid crisis.

The wide-ranging legislation will improve the ability of the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address the crisis— including the ripple effects of the crisis on children, families, and communities—and improve data sharing between states.

OCRA includes several provisions Senator Murray fought for to address challenges she heard travelling around Washington state. It includes support for plans of safe care for babies born to mothers battling substance use disorder, a challenge Senator Murray heard about from nurses in Longview. It also supports trauma-informed care programs and increases access to mental health care for children who have experienced trauma, issues which were raised during a roundtable discussion with local residents and community leaders in Everett.

“I’m glad we were able to come together to advance this major bipartisan legislation that takes so many important steps to improve prevention, treatment, and response to the opioid epidemic so many families and communities are struggling with today,” said Senator Murray. “I look forward to continuing work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure the many good ideas we included in this bill become law. We have much more to do as well, so I am hopeful we can build on the bipartisan steps taken in this bill with more support and relief for those on the front lines of this crisis.”

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will:

  • Reauthorize and improve grants to states and Indian tribes for prevention, response, and treatment to mitigate the opioid crisis, authorized in 21st Century Cures, for three more years.
  • Spur development and research of non-addictive painkillers, and other strategies to prevent, treat, and manage pain and substance use disorders through additional flexibility for the NIH.
  • Clarify FDA’s regulatory pathways for medical product manufacturers through guidance for new non-addictive pain and addiction products.
  • Encourage responsible prescribing behavior by clarifying FDA authority to require packaging and disposal options for certain drugs, such as opioids to allow a set treatment duration—for example “blister packs,” for patients who may only need a 3 or 7 day supply of opioids—and give patients safe disposal options.
  • Improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, through stronger FDA and Customs and Border Protection coordination.
  • Clarify US Customs and Border Protection is responsible for destroying controlled substances found in packages at the border, and strengthen FDA’s authority to refuse admission of illegal drugs from bad-actors. 
  • Clarify FDA’s post-market authorities for drugs, such as opioids, which may have reduced efficacy over time, by modifying the definition of an adverse drug experience to include such situations.
  • Provide support for states to improve their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and encourage data sharing between states so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance misuse.
  • Strengthen the health care workforce to increase access to mental health services in schools and community-based settings and to substance use disorder services in underserved areas.  
  • Improve training and education for pain care and behavioral health providers by incorporating non-addictive pain treatments and trauma informed care.
  • Authorize CDC’s work to combat the opioid crisis, including providing grants for states, localities, and tribes to collect data and implement key prevention strategies. 
  • Address the effects of the opioids crisis on infants, children, and families, including by helping states improve plans of safe care for infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and helping to address child and youth trauma. 
  • Authorize the Department of Labor to address the economic and workforce impacts for communities affected by the opioid crisis, through grants targeted at workforce shortages for the substance use and mental health treatment workforce, and to align job training and treatment services for those affected by substance use disorder.
  • Improves treatment access to patients by requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue regulations on how qualified providers can prescribe controlled substances in limited circumstances via telemedicine.  
  • Allow hospice programs to safely and properly dispose of unneeded controlled substances to help reduce the risk of diversion and misuse.

Video of Senator Murray’s opening statement available HERE.

Full text below of Senator Murray’s opening statement:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.

“I appreciate your commitment to working with me and all the members of this committee to find real solutions for our communities. The legislation before us today proves once again the value of listening to others, and looking for common ground.

“The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 is a great example of this. We approached this national challenge by listening to those on the frontlines of the crisis. We heard from families, experts, agency heads, and state officials—Democrats and Republicans alike. Here in this committee room, we listened as they shared the challenges they face, and many of us also saw their efforts firsthand travelling around our states.  

“I’ve visited communities across Washington facing this crisis, from Everett, to Longview, to Seattle. I’ve heard from nurses, and principals, and children, and parents impacted by the scourge of opioid addiction. I know many others here have had similar experiences.

“And as we listened and learned, we also looked for solutions—and we found quite a few, over forty in fact.

“As we prepare to vote on this important legislation today, I want to thank Chairman Alexander for working with me to approach this in a bipartisan manner. I really want to thank everyone who helped with this individually, but there were so many of you who offered your efforts, ideas, and expertise, that I’m worried thanking everyone by name would just take too long. But everyone on this committee, and several members not on this committee, put a lot of work into this—thank you.

“And I really want to talk about every single great idea we were able to include here, but I’ll stick to a few that are near and dear to my heart—like provisions to help address some of the ripple effects families face when someone is fighting addiction.

“In Washington state, I heard from hospital staff about how many of the babies they see are born with neo-natal abstinence syndrome—suffering from the symptoms of withdrawal. So I’m glad we could work to include support for state efforts to improve plans of safe care for children born to mothers battling addiction.

“And I heard from an elementary school principal in Washington about the children at his school who were having trouble in class because of the trauma of a family member’s addiction at home, and the teachers who were having trouble understanding how best to help these students and respond to the challenges of their trauma productively. So I’m also glad we have included provisions to develop a taskforce and grants to help support trauma-informed care programs and increase access to mental health care for children.

“We were also able to take important steps in this bill to tackle prevention and help families avoid the tragedy of addiction, like flexibility for the National Institutes of Health to deepen our understanding of how to tackle this crisis and support for state efforts to improve Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and the way they use data.

“These are just a few of the many ideas we were able to agree on in this legislation. This bill isn’t just a single step to address the opioid crisis, it is many important steps. But it certainly cannot be the last one. I know more action is needed, and I know there are more ideas in the works—some of which our colleagues with amendments will talk about shortly.

“And this includes more ideas the Chairman and I are working to include as this bill moves through the process, like the bipartisan TREAT Act, championed by Senators Markey, Paul, Collins, and Hassan, that would make permanent the ability of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to help tackle this crisis by prescribing medication-assisted treatment. This is an important policy that many senators on and off this committee have pushed for, and I hope we can get it across the finish line.  

“So even as I thank everyone for their efforts on this bill and going forward—even as we continue to work together to see this bill passed into law for the families and communities in Washington state, and across the nation—I know everyone on this committee is already rolling up their sleeves to get to work on the next bill, and the next, and the one after that.

“And speaking of the next bill… there are a few other important pieces of legislation we will be voting on today—like the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

“This bill will help give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a new tool to do research that can help fight cancer among the heroes who fight fires, including the countless firefighters who risked their lives fighting wildfires in Washington state last year.

“After all our firefighters do to save lives in our communities, I’m thrilled to support this bill to help save lives at the station as well. I want to thank Senators Menendez and Murkowski for their work on this and many members on both sides of the aisle for their support.  

“And I want to thank Senators Casey and Isakson for their leadership on two other bills we will be voting on today.

“First, the Over-the-Counter Drug Safety, Innovation, and Reform Act. This bill will improve the regulation of over-the-counter drugs by overhauling the outdated monograph process, allowing the Food and Drug Administration to act quickly to address safety concerns with packaging and labeling changes, fostering innovation, and supporting the agency’s work through industry user fees.

“And Senators Casey and Isakson have also been working on the Children’s Hospital G-M-E Support Reauthorization Act of 2018. This bill will reauthorize a program that helps children’s hospitals attract residents and train new talent by providing the hospitals with federal graduate medical education support.

“The program helps provide funding at over fifty hospitals across the country—including in Washington—to say nothing of the many residents it provides an opportunity to train  and the many young patients who are able to get the specialized treatment they need from them.

“I look forward to supporting all of the bills before us today, as this committee continues to show what sort of progress is possible when you bring everyone—including families—to the table, and leave partisanship at the door.

“I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the important work happening in this committee to look for steps to address maternal mortality.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that in the United States of America, in the 21st Century, maternal mortality rates are increasing—and increasing at higher rates for women of color. So I’m glad to know that we have members on both sides of the aisle who understand how important this issue is for families across the country.

“That’s why I’m pleased we’ve agreed to keep working on the bill championed by Senators Heitkamp and Capito for markup next month. And I’m hopeful that we will continue to work together to move forward on steps to respond to this crisis in the future. 

“Thank you.”