Saturday, April 28, 2018

As Senate committee OKs package to fight opioid epidemic, McConnell files bill to relieve its impact on workers and employers

As the U.S. Senate's health committee sent the chamber a bipartisan bill aimed at the nation's opioid epidemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill to provide relief to employers and employees in Kentucky and other states suffering most from the epidemic.

The commitee's bill incorporates another one filed by McConnell, calling on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop educational materials on pain management for doctors and pregnant women, and authorizing an increase in funding for grants that help organizations address the problem of prenatal opioid exposure.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking Democrat Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sponsor the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680). “The challenge before us has sometimes been described as needing a moonshot,” Alexander said during the panel's markup of the bill.

“I believe that solving the opioid crisis might require the energy of a moonshot, but ultimately, it’s not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.,” Alexander said. “I wish we could have a single blockbuster idea that an agency here could deal with and solve the problem: What we can do is take a number of steps to create an environment so that everyone … can succeed in fighting the crisis community by community.”

The bill includes more than 40 proposals from 38 different senators, Alexander said. "Specifically, it includes measures attempting to make it easier to prescribe smaller packs of opioids for limited durations, spur the development of nonaddictive painkillers and bolster the detection of illegal drugs at the border," Medscape reports.

The bill "seeks to boost scientific research related to pain, to aid medical and law enforcement efforts to prevent and track misuse of prescription drugs, and to provide assistance for communities already struggling with its consequences," The Hill reports.

Alexander said he expects other committees will also have ideas on how to combat the opioid epidemic, “but if we can present our framework to Senator McConnell, maybe this is something the Senate can move on this summer.” A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a large number of opioid proposals; its chairman, Rep. Greg Walden(R-Ore.), told The Hill that he hopes to send legislation to the House floor by Memorial Day.

McConnell's new bill "would bring targeted relief to the states most devastated by substance abuse," said a press release from his office. "The state-based pilot program established under this legislation would encourage local businesses and treatment groups to form partnerships to help individuals in recovery find and maintain employment. The legislation encourages expanding transitional housing options for recovering addicts until they secure permanent arrangements. Further, it gives states more flexibility to spend federal career services and training funds to support individuals transitioning from treatment to the workforce."

McConnell said many Kentucky employers cite substance abuse as an obstacle to maintaining a full workforce. "One study attributed roughly 25 percent of the decline in workforce participation between 1999 and 2015 to aspects of the opioid crisis," the release said.

Meanwhile, on the illegal side of the drug landscape, McConnell announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration had granted his request to open an office in Paducah like the one it already has in Madisonville. He said in a release that DEA was responding to local officials' call for such an office, and a "tremendous upsurge in the amount of methamphetamine and synthetic cannabinoids imported and distributed in Western Kentucky."

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