Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. Opioid drugs contributed to over 49,000 of those deaths. In response to the ever-growing crisis, the Senate passed a bill aimed at stemming the opioid epidemic in September. President Trump, who labeled the opioid epidemic a national emergency earlier this year, recently signed the bill ⎼ the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act ⎼ into law.
The comprehensive law addresses everything from increasing preventative efforts to expanding treatment to improving the quality of care. Below are five important components of this law and how they can impact addiction and treatment.
1. The law strives to cut down the amount of fentanyl illegally entering the country.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a significant amount of fentanyl comes from China. Officials believe international packages containing drugs are bypassing detection by law enforcement due to a loophole in the postal system that makes it harder for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to screen packages. To combat the issue, the new law will require the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to provide advanced electronic data on all international shipments. It will also allow the destruction of any package that fails to provide such data.
2. The law will develop best practices and set standards for recovery houses.
Stories of individuals overdosing while under the care of sober houses continues to make headlines, highlighting the dangers these unregulated homes pose. While some states have made efforts to regulate sober living homes, the new law will require national standards to be set in place.
3. The law will enable Medicare beneficiaries to become educated about the risks of opioid medications.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 70 percent of heroin users begin by abusing prescription painkillers. Many become addicted to painkillers after receiving a prescription to ease discomfort after surgery or to help manage chronic pain. The new law will require all Medicaid beneficiaries to be educated on the risks associated with taking opioids prior to receiving their prescription. It will also provide them with information on non-opioid alternatives and holistic alternatives. New enrollees will also be screened for opioid-use disorders.
4. The law will better educate pharmacists about opioid abuse.
The new law will push the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop training programs and create materials to help pharmacists better recognize the signs of prescription pill abuse. The training will focus on fraudulent and forged prescriptions and misuse behaviors. Better training will empower pharmacists to be able to refuse filling a prescription when they suspect abuse.
5. The law will make Medication-Assisted Treatment more accessible.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is regarded as the most effective form of treatment for opioid addiction, but few medical professionals are currently authorized to offer such treatment, making access very limited for many. The new law will allow a wider array of medical professionals to prescribe addiction medications, including certified nurse midwives and certified registered nurse anesthetists. It will also increase the number of MAT patients that health care practitioners are initially allowed to treat.
The 660-page bill that was signed into law includes countless other provisions aimed at cutting down abuse and improving treatment – many of which have already gone into effect.