House passes sweeping opioid measure

Washington DC National Capitol Building
On Friday, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation to address the opioid crisis. (Getty/lucky-photographer)

The House on Friday overwhelmingly passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis by funding prevention and treatment initiatives and efforts to combat illicit drugs like fentanyl.

The legislation, which passed 396 to 14, contained dozens of measures to address responses to opioid misuse and was among multiple measures passed by the House related to opioids in the last two weeks.

“This package is not Congress’ first legislative response to this crisis, nor will it be our last. But it does include meaningful solutions that will update archaic policies, better equip our communities to respond to this evolving epidemic, and save lives,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D., R-Texas, in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about two out of three of the 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid, a rate that is five times higher than it was in 1999. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, the CDC estimated

RELATED: National Business Group on Health issues new recommendations for pushing PBMs on opioids

The legislation itself is a smorgasbord of measures aimed at changing Centers for Medicaid and Medicare incentives and redirect federal funding to support state-level opioid efforts.

Among the changes included in the act: 

  • Encourage nonopioid treatments: It would direct the Food and Drug Administration to update guidance on existing pathways to bring novel nonaddictive treatments for pain and addiction to patients. It would create a pass-through payment extension under Medicare to encourage the development of clinically superior nonopioid drugs and incentivize postsurgical injections as a pain treatment alternative to opioids by reversing a reimbursement cut for these treatments.
  • Support safeguards: It would require e-prescribing for coverage of prescription drugs that are controlled substances under the Medicare Part D program.
  • Improve funding for treatment services and access to MAT: It would instruct CMS to evaluate the use of telehealth services in treating substance use disorders and require CMS to carry out a demonstration project to provide additional federal funds to states for substance-use treatment and recovery services. It would provide access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in Medicare through bundled payments. It would authorize grants to state and local agencies for establishing public health laboratories to detect fentanyl and other synthetic opioids and enable clinicians other than physicians to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to assist patients in reducing dependence on opioids. 

RELATED: CMS finalizes regulations to curb opioid misuse among Part D beneficiaries

As STAT reported, it does not include expanded funding for methadone clinics, harm reduction strategies or mandatory prescriber education.

The measures are expected to be bundled and sent to the Senate for consideration. Senators have been working on their own opioid-related legislation, and earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee advanced its own massive opioids package.