The US Senate has passed a package of more than 70 bipartisan bills in an effort to tackle the country’s opioid crisis.
The “Opioid Crisis Response Act” (OCRA), passed on 17 September 2018 on a 99-1 vote, received overwhelming support across political parties.
The legislation aims to grant more regulatory powers to national US health organisations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration, and to improve data sharing between states.
The FDA is set to receive more authority over how certain drug manufacturers package their products, requiring them, for example, to sell medicines in “blister packs” for patients who may only need a three or seven-day supply. Manufacturers would also have to provide patients with a simple and safe way to dispose of leftover drugs.
OCRA also sets provisions for the FDA to offer guidance to help companies develop non-opioid and non-addictive pain products.
In addition to this, the FDA would have an enhanced presence at the US border, using detection technology and testing equipment that allows near-real-time data sharing to better detect and seize illegal drugs.
The legislation also included the “Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act” (STOP Act), aimed at controlling how fentanyl and other opioids enter the US via post from China.
It will require the US Postal Service to collect electronic information on goods arriving in the country and screen for contraband drugs.
Information would be provided on at least 70% of international mail shipments, including all of those from China, by the end of 2018, and would extend to all shipments by the end of 2020. The postal service would also have the power to block or destroy shipments should the required information not be provided.
Republican senator Lamar Alexander, who sponsored the Opioid Crisis Response Act, said he is “already working to combine the Senate and House-passed bills into an even stronger law to fight the nation’s worst public health crisis, and there is a bipartisan sense of urgency to send the bill to the President quickly.”
Earlier this summer, President Trump tweeted in support of the STOP Act, imploring the Senate to pass the bill with “no more delay”.
Other aims of the package of bills include improving access to telemedicine (the use of telecommunication technology to diagnose, treat and prescribe drugs to patients); grants to train first responders and assist in youth prevention and recovery; and better integrating mental health and opioid awareness in schools.