Senators unveil bipartisan bill to fight opioid epidemic


Senators unveil bipartisan bill to fight opioid epidemic
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators is introducing legislation Tuesday to address the opioid epidemic, framing it as a follow-up bill to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) signed into law in 2016.

Dubbed CARA 2.0, the legislation includes a host of policy changes, such as establishing a three-day initial prescribing limit on opioids for acute pain, beefing up services to promote recovery and aiming to increase the availability of treatment.

The legislation is a mixture of policy changes and increased funding authorizations, in light of a two-year budget deal passed earlier this month that includes $6 billion for the opioid and mental health crises.

Those introducing the bill include Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

The bipartisan bill includes some measures similar to those removed from the original CARA bill passed in 2016, such as an initiative to bolster youth recovery support services and a provision requiring physicians and pharmacists to use their state prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing or dispensing opioids.

Additionally, the legislation would let states waive the cap on the number of patients a physician can prescribe buprenorphine — a medicine used to treat opioid addiction — and increase penalties for opioid manufacturers failing to report suspicious orders.  

CARA 2.0 authorizes $1 billion in additional funding. Some $10 million would fund a national education campaign on opioids; $300 million would increase training for first responders and their access to an opioid overdose reversal drug; another $300 million would expand medication-assisted treatment; and $200 million would help build more recovery support services, for example.

To draft the first CARA bill, Portman and Whitehouse helped convene five national forums comprised of experts on prevention, treatment, law enforcement and recovery.

The opioid epidemic hasn’t shown signs of abating, as overdose deaths increased nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is working on legislation aimed at combating the opioid epidemic. Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) hopes to pass the measures out of the House by Memorial Day weekend.