Sweeping Opioids Package Signed Into Law

On October 24, 2018, President Donald Trump signed legislation aimed at tackling the U.S. opioid epidemic. The package – representing legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June and by the Senate in September – received bipartisan support from the House and Senate.

The expansive package focuses on preventing addiction before it starts and on improving access to treatment services for people who have become addicted to opioids.

On the prevention side, the legislation increases funding for law enforcement. One measure mandates that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) collect information on 70 percent of international packages by the end of 2018, including all shipments from China. This aspect is aimed at helping the agency identify and intercept synthetic fentanyl and other highly addictive substances imported through the mail. USPS would be required to collect information on 100 percent of these packages by 2020.

The package also includes the repeal of a rule that blocks states from spending federal Medicaid funds on addiction treatment at centers with more than 16 beds, allowing states to expand these centers’ capacities to accommodate the growing epidemic.

The legislation also funds research for  opioid alternatives for pain management and expands the ability of physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, an antiaddiction medication.

Although the legislation received bipartisan support, some critics argue that the funding is not sufficient to reverse the epidemic. “Experts in the field tell us that is not nearly enough,” said Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who backed the bill. “We have to treat this as a starting point. We have a lot more work to do.”

Sources:  The New York Times, September 26, 2018; NPR, October 24, 2018.