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Legislation Hearings to Begin for Tackling Opioids

Legislation Hearings to Begin for Tackling Opioids

Written by: stodzy | Date: March 23, 2018

It is no surprise that the opioid crisis has reached the White House. Currently, the Republican House is beginning a series of hearings with the goal of passing new bills that are aimed towards patient safety and law enforcement efforts around the opioid crisis.

The Need for Change

Every day in the United States, over 100 people die of an overdose from an opioid medication, heroin, and fentanyl. The numbers have shown very little sign of decreasing, and now lawmakers are scrambling to find the answer to this problem.

In the past, Drug War efforts have been mostly centered around incarceration, Just Say No campaigns, and foreign war efforts. However, this drug epidemic is not due to a drug cartel in another country. This one has been happening slowly, on home soil, for the past three decades, by our own pharmaceutical companies.

  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States
  • Four out of five heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers
  • The prescribing rates for opioids among adolescents and young adults doubled from 1994 to 2007
  • Many adolescents and teenage individuals the first taste of hard drugs was through an opioid prescription for a wisdom tooth extraction, minor sprain, etc.
  • In 2015, 4,235 youths aged 15-24 died from a drug overdose, over half were from opioids
  • Opioid-related deaths jumped nearly 28% from 2015-2016

The Goal

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding three hearings to discuss and pass bills that should help with the opioid crisis. Primary topics for the legislative hearing range across the board for areas of improvement.

Starting with increased law enforcement, scheduling guidelines for synthetic opioids, proper disposal of unused prescriptions, medical education for providers, and expanded access of medical assistance to underserved areas, the committee is working with a $6 billion budget.

Scheduling Guidelines

One of the top goals is to change the rating of the potentially deadly drug, Fentanyl, in the controlled substance list. The DEA has temporarily placed Fentanyl and all of its derivatives into the Schedule I class, as it previously in the Schedule II category along with Vicodin, Cocaine, Fentanyl, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Mind you, that Schedule I drugs are listed as the most dangerous and the most addictive, and Schedule II is considered less dangerous and addictive.

Changing the scheduling class of this drug will allow law enforcement, from local police to the DEA, to be able to apply the same criminal sanctions to this drug as they are to other Schedule I drugs such as heroin, LSD, and marijuana.

Proper Disposal of Unused Opioids

Research has shown an alarming trend in the numbers of people who get first-time opioids from a family member or friends with unused pills. This can range from adolescence to adulthood and it can often be the start of a future opioid addiction, to the fueling of a current one.

One topic on the opioid crisis bill is to allow hospice workers to dispose of their patients’ unused opioid prescriptions. While drug take-back programs have been in effect for several years, great strides have been made over the last year to increase awareness and access for everyone who wants to prevent their medications from falling into the wrong hands.

Currently, Wal Mart has been distributing Dispose Rx packets with each opioid prescription, which allows patients the ability to neutralize and dispose of any leftover medications from the convenience of their own home.

Medical Education for Providers

One of the most hot-button topics under the legislative microscope is safe prescribing methods by medical providers. While it would seem elementary to have to teach providers not to overprescribe their patients, there is still an alarming number of medical practices that are not abiding by these laws.

What About Big Pharma?

With all of the debates about which area to start with, the House Republicans and the White House as a whole has been more or less silent when it comes to who is really to blame for the opioid crisis. Sure, China has been shipping Carfentanil into the US and Mexico is known to be smuggling heroin over the border, but what about the biggest drug dealer of all?

  • The pharmaceutical companies annually rake in trillions on the medications they flood into the country.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, 7 in 10 Americans take at least one or more medications.
  • In 2014, 1.3 million people went to the Emergency Room for adverse drug effects, and 124,000 of them died from those effects.
  • The total number of prescriptions filled by Americans has increased by 85% since 1997, while the population has only increased by 21%.

Local Senator Bills

In the states that have been hit the hardest, local government agencies are coming forward with bills of their own to help fight the opioid crisis on their home soil. For example, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has proposed:

  • Three-day limits on opioid prescriptions for acute pain
  • Allowing physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, a treatment for opioid addiction, with a physician’s approval
  • Require providers to use prescription drug monitoring programs before writing opioid prescriptions.
  • Increase civil and criminal penalties to opioid manufacturers for over distributing
  • Creating a national standard for addiction recovery housing.

This proposed bill has been agreed upon and supported by multiple other state legislators, such as Sen. Whitehouse from Rhode Island, Sen Moore Capito from West Virginia, Sen Klobuchar from Minnesota, Sen Sullivan from Alaska, Senator Hassan from New Hampshire, and Sen Cassidy from Louisiana.

So far, the legislative hearings still have two more sessions to go before reaching an ultimate goal of tackling the opioid crisis.