Senate bill calls for data, technology to combat opioid crisis

Reducing the number of prescriptions is a major objective of the legislation, says Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Leaders of the Senate health committee on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation designed to help combat the nationwide opioid epidemic through the increased collection, analysis and sharing of data to track controlled substance prescribing and the effects of drug abuse.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S. 2680), which includes 40 wide-ranging proposals, puts a premium on leveraging information technology such as electronic health records, telemedicine and Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs)—databases states use to track controlled substance prescriptions by flagging suspicious patient prescribing activities.

“Our goal is to move urgently, effectively and in a bipartisan way,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee, in a written statement. “This is a broad-based set of 40 different proposals to address the opioid crisis. The bill could help states and communities begin to bring an end to the opioid crisis by reducing the number of prescription opioids, stopping illegal drugs at the border and accelerating research on non-addictive pain medicines.”

Among the bill’s provisions is Jessie’s Law, named after Jessie Grubb who died of an opioid overdose. The provision would make it easier for physicians to know if a patient has a history of opioid abuse by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to develop best practices for prominently displaying this information in electronic health records, when requested by the patient.

At the same time, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 calls for identifying “model training programs on how to protect and appropriately disclose confidential substance use disorder medical records for healthcare providers, patients and their families.”

The legislation also provides support for improving state-run PDMPs and encourages states to share data with one another by streamlining federal requirements “so physicians and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance use.”

Last month, President Trump called for a nationally interoperable network of PDMPs after the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis found that data sharing among these databases are being significantly underutilized in the vast majority of states.

Also See: Trump opioid plan calls for interoperable exchange of prescription data

The Opioid Crisis Response Act also seeks clarification on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s “ability to develop a regulation to allow qualified providers to prescribe controlled substances in limited circumstances via telemedicine.”

Under the bill, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would bolster its controlled substance data collection activities and provide “support to states, localities and tribes to collect, analyze and disseminate controlled substance overdose data” to more rapidly assess and respond to the opioid crisis. The CDC would also collect and analyze data on the occurrence and prevention of neonatal abstinence syndrome, as well as data collection and research on outcomes associated with prenatal opioid use.

In addition, the legislation calls for the agency to support state and federal efforts to collect data on infections commonly associated with injection drug use, including viral hepatitis and HIV, and identify and assist patients who may be at increased risk of infection. The bill would also authorize the CDC to support states in collecting and reporting data on adverse childhood experiences through public health surveys.

“We will consider and seek to approve this bill next Tuesday, so we can get it to the Majority Leader and to the Senate for prompt consideration, along with other important proposals that may be coming from other committees,” said Alexander, whose committee will mark up the legislation on April 24.

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