Trump approves opioid package, expands telemedicine, regulates e-prescribing for opioids

Trump invited 21 companies to the White House signing of the bill, including Amazon, which unveiled a new AWS Opioid Crisis Council.
By Laura Lovett
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In one of the few and far between bipartisan bills to be passed during this administration, President Donald Trump signed into law yesterday a new package aimed to help tackle the opioid epidemic, called the Support for Patients and Communities Act

The latest legislation expands opioid-specific telemedicine services, exempting the technology 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 White House invited 21 private companies to the signing, including Johnson & Johnson, Google, Facebook and Amazon. 

Coinciding with this announcement, Amazon unveiled a new Amazon Web Services (AWS) Opioid Crisis Council. The tech giant said the new council will be focused on gaining insights from large data sets and collecting priorities from siloed stakeholders. 

Amazon Alexas are now able to answer questions about opioid abuse and how to get help after Amazon teamed up with the Ad Council and Truth Campaign in June. 

“Amazon will help first responders more efficiently access critical medical records and has programmed Alexa voice service to answer important questions about opioids and addiction,” Brian Huseman, VP of Public Policy at AWS, said in a statement. 

Why it matters

The CDC reported 42,000 opioid related deaths in 2016. Prescription drugs have become an especially problematic, accounting for 40 percent of those deaths. Fentanyl, a particularly potent opioid, has also come into the mix in recent years and been mixed with other opioids such as heroine. 

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

In recent years the government has been looking to technology and telemedicine as a way to combat the opioid crisis, and that has often meant turning to the private sector for ideas. Last year 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 

“We will work to strengthen vulnerable families and communities, and we will help to build and grow a stronger, healthier and drug-free society,”  Trump said in a statement.