Passage of opioid legislation hailed

September 20, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Several pieces of legislation worked on by West Virginia representatives in Congress may soon be on the president’s desk for signature as part of the Opioid Crisis Response Act passed by the U.S. Senate on Monday.

The act has already been passed by the House of Representatives and the two arms of Congress will now need to meet in conference committee to compromise on a final version before it goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The measure passed by a 99-1 vote Monday evening. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted against it.

The legislation takes wide aim at the problem, including increasing scrutiny of arriving international mail that may include illegal drugs. It makes it easier for the National Institutes of Health to approve research on non-addictive painkillers and for pharmaceutical companies to conduct that research. The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to require drugmakers to package smaller quantities of drugs such as opioids. And there would be new federal grants for treatment centers, training emergency workers and research on prevention methods.

Karen Yost, CEO of Prestera Center, said in a statement the 70 pieces of this bill is a good start, though there is no “magic bullet” to solving the opioid crisis.

“It likely will take a longer amount of time to solve than one or two budget years and could be costly to implement this bill as this crisis is both severe and complex,” Yost said. “How this legislation is implemented will be key as even good legislation implemented poorly will not be helpful.

“This bill is a start in the right direction, even though it does not address significant underlying issues in this epidemic, including adverse childhood experiences, extreme poverty, gainful employment, safe affordable housing, related chronic health problems and co-occurring mental health problems.”

The act includes several measures introduced and worked on by West Virginia’s congressional delegation.

The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act allows Medicaid payments to pay for care at locations like Lily’s Place, which provides residential care for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their parents. It also reauthorizes the Residential l Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women grant program and includes grants to help states implement plans of safe care for substance-exposed infants.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W. Va., in the House and U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in the Senate.

Rebecca Crowder, executive director at Lily’s Place, said the CRIB Act will allow more centers like hers to open across the country and will help Lily’s Place assist families in Ohio and Kentucky who give birth at Huntington’s hospitals.

It took a lot of work to pass legislation in West Virginia to allow billing of Medicaid, she said.

“The billing issue really made people step back from starting their own centers,” Crowder said. “Maybe now with the passage of this act, we will see people pick those interests back up.”

Jessie’s Law and a portion of the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act, both spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are included in the act as well. Named for West Virginia native Jessie Grubb, the legislation works to better facilitate quality coordinated care for individuals with a history of substance use disorder. The act will require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provide materials to train medical professionals in the safe sharing of substance use disorder treatment records.

Manchin said he also worked to secure a provision that will divvy out funding to states like West Virginia that have a high rate of overdoses, as opposed to simply a high number of overdoses.

“This language more than tripled the amount of funding coming to our state, and I will continue to fight to ensure West Virginia is getting our fair share of funding to fight this epidemic,” Manchin said in a news release.

Capito said she was proud that what is and isn’t working in West Virginia was reflected in the bill, and was also proud of how it addresses the ripple effects of the crisis, like NAS.

“This isn’t a silver bullet, but it is an important part of a much broader solution,” Capito said in a news release. “I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this legislation to the president’s desk and to take additional action that will help us make even more progress in fighting the opioid epidemic.”

The act does not provide funding for any of the initiatives, which will come through appropriations. On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which includes Manchin and Capito, passed the Fiscal Year 2019 Labor HHS bill, which includes $3.8 billion for opioid funding. This level includes $1.5 billion for the State Opioid Response grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, resources to replace the sun-setting 21st Century CURES funds and 15 percent set aside for the states impacted most by the crisis.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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