Senate passes bill to address opioid crisis, expands telemedicine scope

The bill will also modify the provision regarding electronic prescription and post-surgical managment.
By Laura Lovett
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Yesterday the senate overwhelmingly passed a new opioid bill in a 98-1 vote, with only Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) voting against it and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) not voting. The vote expands telemedicine services to people with opioid abuse disorder, exempting it from certain requirements. It also modifies the provisions regarding electronic prescriptions and post-surgical pain management. 

Further down in the bill, the telemedicine portion spelled out that states will be able to seek federal reimbursement under Medicaid for telemedicine services of substance abuse disorders including medication-assisted treatment, counseling, medication management and medication adherence. The legislation specifically targets people in high-risk groups including American Indians and Alaska Natives, adults under 40, individuals with a history of non-fatal overdoses and individuals with co-occuring serious mental illness and substance use disorder. 

The bill has already been passed by the House and is now in the resolving differences phase, before going to the president. 

Why it matters

The opioid epidemic has continued to devastate the US; in 2016 the CDC reported 63,632 drug overdoes deaths in the US — in 66 percent of those deaths opioids were involved. The East Coast has been hit particularly hard with West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, DC and Pennsylvania accounting for the highest drug overdose deaths in the country. 

What's the trend

The US government has been turning its attention to this rapidly going health problem. 

Last year President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a “National Public Health Emergency.” The announcement brought the epidemic to the forefront; however, it only meant $57,000 in new funding towards solving the crisis.

Later in November of 2017 the White House released The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, encouraging more digital technologies to address the crisis. 

Other departments within the government have began to address the crisis as well. In December, the Department of Health and Human Services hosted a code-a-thon to address the opioid crisis. Innovators from across the country were invited to compete for one of three $10,000 prizes and contribute ideas towards solving the epidemic.

On the record 

Yesterday the National Community Pharmacists Association’s CEO Douglas Hoey released a statement in support of the bill. 

"The opioid epidemic is a complex, heartbreaking problem requiring an all-hands-on-deck response. We are grateful to congressional leaders for their work on this vital relief package and for engaging with NCPA and other stakeholders throughout its development,” Hoey said. “As community pharmacists continue our efforts to educate patients on the appropriate use of opioids for legitimate pain management, safeguard against addiction, and promote proper disposal of prescription opioids, we stand ready to continue working with policymakers and other stakeholders in the ongoing fight against opioid abuse."