Health Care (Archived)

Both houses of Congress have advanced opioid legislation

Lawmakers reconciled legislation addressing the opioid crisis.

Opioids and heroin needles

Opioids and heroin needles Victor Moussa/Shutterstock

While not the state most affected by the opioid crisis, the epidemic has not left New York untouched.

The opioid-related overdose death rate in the state was 15.1 per 100,000 people in 2016,  according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, higher than the national rate of 13.3 deaths. Between 2009 and 2016, prescription-opioid-related deaths in the state nearly doubled, and between 2012 and 2016, heroin-related deaths more than doubled and synthetic opioid-related deaths increased tenfold.

Now, lawmakers are hoping that a legislative package agreed to by both houses of Congress will reverse the troubling epidemic.

Comprehensive bipartisan legislation passed the Senate easily in a 99-1 vote on Sept. 17. The House passed its own bill in June. Then, last week, negotiators announced an agreement that combines measures from both houses’ legislative proposals, and they are expected to be approved and sent to President Donald Trump shortly.

“There is bipartisan urgency for both of our chambers to pass this consensus legislation so the President can sign it as soon as possible,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said in a statement.

Included in the deal are measures to halt the flow of illegal drugs across the border, incentivize research into painkillers that are not addictive and increase treatment for addicts. It also includes support for state-level efforts to monitor drug purchases to prevent doctor shopping, such as New York’s innovative I-STOP program.

“New York State has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, and Congress should be doing everything it can to help our communities fight back against this crisis and prevent abuse of these highly addictive drugs,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement in September. She had called for funding for prescription drug monitoring like I-STOP, which helps “prevent abuse and prescription fraud.”

According to Alexander’s office, the Senate has appropriated $8.5 billion this year toward fighting the opioid crisis through budget bills passed in March and September.

The Senate’s Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 had included the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, which would require the U.S. Postal Service to take additional measures to prevent the flow of illegal drugs like fentanyl from entering the country by mail. Its legislation would also require the Food and Drug Administration to create packaging allowing three-day or seven-day supplies of opioids in order to discourage using the medication beyond the needed time.

Beyond slowing the distribution of opioids, the legislation aims to bolster recovery efforts with grants for comprehensive recovery centers that would provide housing, job training and medically supervised withdrawal management. Similar measures are expected to be included in the final bill.