Congress Is Writing Lots of Opioid Bills. But Which Ones Will Actually Help?

But treatment is not the primary focus of this crop of bills. Instead, a large number address various matters related to the prescribing of drugs; the tracking of prescribing; and the packaging and disposal of medications. Many of these measures could be helpful in preventing new cases of addiction: A recent study cited by the Department of Health and Human Services suggests that over half of those in treatment for opioid-use disorders began by using prescription medications.

But the push comes as prescriber behavior is already changing, amid recent policy changes meant to deter the overuse of opioid medications in medical care. Prescriptions for opioids have been falling since 2012, according to a recent study, even as the overdose death toll has continued to rise.

There are also, of course, many bills calling for studies.

Another missed opportunity, addiction experts said, is the legislative strategy to encourage creation of more treatment options for patients who need them. Earlier legislation, including the recent big spending deal passed by Congress, created short-term state grants for local anti-opioid priorities. But what health care providers and other entrepreneurs really need is a more permanent source of funding, so that those setting up clinics or companies will know they can remain in business over the long term, said Caleb Alexander, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The shorter-term grant programs may not provide the nudge, he said.

“States are getting $500 million here or $200 million there,” he said. “At any given moment, it’s unclear whether the rug is going to be pulled out from under them.”

President Trump has unveiled his own set of preferred opioids policies, many focusing on enhanced law enforcement approaches. The White House has signaled its approval of a number of the House bills under consideration, including the one that would expand coverage of hospital addiction treatment and two that seek to limit trafficking of synthetic opioid drugs, like fentanyl.

The Senate is moving ahead with its own legislative push on opioids, though the midterm politics differ in that chamber. Passing opioid bills in the coming months could benefit several Democratic incumbents who are up for re-election in states where the crisis is particularly severe, such as West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, an aide said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate health committee, would lead an effort to bring a package of measures to the Senate floor.

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