News Releases

Monday, September 17, 2018

Isakson Applauds Senate Passage of 'Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018'

Comprehensive opioid legislation includes three Isakson-backed measures, additional priorities to combat nationwide opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today applauded the Senate passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which is bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to improve the federal government’s response to the opioid epidemic. This week, September 16 - 22, has been recognized as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.

The Senate also today passed S.2554, the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, to improve price transparency and fix incentives that have driven up the cost of prescription drugs by prohibiting “gag clauses” that some health insurance plans have used to block pharmacists from sharing drug pricing information with patients.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 package combines more than 70 proposals, three of which were authored by Isakson, from five Senate committees, including two that Isakson sits on: the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Senate Committee on Finance. The legislation takes a multi-pronged approach to attack the opioid crisis through prevention, treatment and recovery, support for caregivers and families, safety, medical research, and improved border security measures, in addition to tackling the crisis through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“The opioid crisis has touched my own family just as it has affected so many other Georgia families, veterans and businesses,” said Isakson. “President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency last year, and after months of work across many committees and both sides of the aisle, I’m proud that the Senate has passed such a comprehensive measure to fight the opioid crisis in Georgia and across the country. We must all work together to tackle this crisis.”

Isakson is a co-sponsor of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Opioid Crisis Response Act legislation, which is included in the final package. A provision of this legislation authorizes and improves the state targeted responses grants from the Isakson-backed 21st Century Cures Act to improve flexibility for states in using the grants.

Additionally, Isakson authored several provisions that were included in the final package addressing Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare patients are a particularly high-risk population. In 2016, one-third of Medicare patients with a prescription drug plan had a prescription for an opioid. 

Originally introduced as S.2900 by Isakson and a bipartisan group of senators, the Comprehensive Screenings for Seniors Act of 2018 adds potential substance use disorders and a review of any current opioid prescriptions as part of the initial “Welcome to Medicare” exam and the wellness visit under the Medicare program.

Isakson also introduced S.2769, another measure included in the package that requires Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to develop an overall action plan for Medicare and Medicaid to enhance the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction and the coverage and reimbursement of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

A third measure sponsored by Isakson would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary to support states seeking to provide housing-related support and services and care coordination services under Medicaid to beneficiaries with substance use disorders and issue a report detailing an action plan to do so within 180 days after enactment.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will:

  • Reduce use and supply of opioids, including the STOP Act to help stop illegal drugs such as dangerous Chinese-produced fentanyl at the border, as well as providing flexible grants for states to better share Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs data. These programs ensure addicts do not go “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions at the same time.
  • Encourage recovery by supporting states and Indian tribes in addressing substance use disorders, establishing comprehensive opioid recovery centers, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, and improving community support, access to health professionals, tele-health services and long-distance care, and recovery housing services.
  • Support caregivers and families by improving plans for safe care and support for substance-exposed babies and their mothers, promoting family-focused treatment and recovery, aiding youth with substance use disorders, and strengthening trauma-informed care and support in schools and early childhood education programs.
  • Drive innovation and long-term solutions by advancing cutting-edge research to spur discovery and development of new non-addictive painkillers and speeding up approval pathways for these alternative treatment options to get them into the hands of patients sooner. It would also address the economic and workforce impacts of the opioid crisis, ensure parity in mental health and substance use disorder benefits, and improve pain management.

A section by section of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 can be found here.

In August, the Senate passed legislation to fund the government for fiscal year 2019 that provides an increase in funding for the fourth year in a row for opioid treatment. It also funded State Opioid Response Grants at $1.5 billion to allow states to create action plans that meet the needs of their states.

In his work as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Isakson has successfully led efforts to hold the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs accountable for over-prescribing and to pass legislation providing quality pain management for veterans.

On August 9, Isakson spoke at the third meeting of the Statewide Opioid Task Force in Augusta, Ga., led by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. The Georgia Department of Public Health also announced its initial draft of the Statewide Opioid Strategic Plan on Aug. 21.

The fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill enacted in March provided $4.7 billion directed towards the opioid crisis, including $1 billion for grants to states.