U.S Senate approves opioid legislation

By:  Jesse Major
Source: Peninsula Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate this week advanced legislation intended to combat the opioid epidemic and hold manufacturers accountable for negligent and misleading distribution practices.

The bipartisan Opioid Crisis Response Act was approved 99-1 and has moved on to conference committee with the House of Representatives.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, was one of the cosponsors of the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee. 

The final legislation included provisions introduced by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, who visited Port Angeles in March to learn how the opioid epidemic affects Port Angeles. 

“From Port Angeles to Spokane, I guarantee you I’ve heard about this problem, seen how our communities are struggling, and this is the very help they’ve been asking for,” Cantwell said in a statement. 

“They want new tools, they want better solutions, and they want us to join the fight against drug manufacturers who push this out … so that our law enforcement can cut down on the huge amount of opioids streaming into our community.” 

It’s a bill Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said he will support. Kilmer represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula. 

“Too many families in our communities and across the country have been ravaged by the scourge of this opioid crisis,” he said in a statement. 

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties have joined a lawsuit against manufacturers and wholesalers of opioid-based prescription drugs. 

He said the region needs more mental health treatment centers and more affordable health care options that don’t discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions — including a history of addiction or mental illness. 

“We need Congress to take actions to stop the illicit flow of opioids into our community,” he said. “Sen. Cantwell has taken the lead on that front in the Senate with the Opioid Crisis Response Act and I applaud her for her leadership.” 

Cantwell and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., introduced a bill in February to hold drug makers accountable for false advertising and negligent distribution practices that have fueled the opioid epidemic. 

Many of the provisions in that bill were included in the Opioid Crisis Response Act. 

“We need to do something now to make sure that opioid manufacturers follow the laws that are already on the books,” Cantwell said. “This legislation takes a major step forward by including penalties for negligent opioid distribution strong enough to serve as a deterrent to those manufacturers.” 

If signed into law, the Opioid Crisis Response Act would crack down on illegal drug distribution by increasing civil penalties on manufacturers and distributors of opioids that fail to report suspicious orders for opioids or fail to maintain effective controls against diversion of opioids from $10,000 to $100,000. It also increases criminal penalties for failing to maintain effective controls against diversion of opioids from $250,000 to $500,000. 

The legislation would also increase funding and resources for opioid treatment. 

It provides permanent authority for physicians to provide medication assisted treatment for up to 275 patients, expands the ability to use telehealth services to treat opioid use disorder and authorized $75 million for the Drug Court Program. 

It also supports new research and treatment alternatives.