POLICY BRIEFINGS


New Data Uncovered on Nationwide Opioid Distribution


Newly released federal data shows that more than 100 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone were shipped nationwide between 2006 and 2014, 24 billion doses more than previously realized. While the figures collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) between 2006 and 2012 were obtained and released by the Washington Post last year, the numbers for 2013 and 2014 were just made public last week as a part of a lawsuit against the opioid industry. The data traces the number of pills from the manufacturer to the distributor and to the pharmacies across the country. West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee received the most opioids per person over the nine-year period.


Senate Passes Fentanyl Analogues Legislation


The Senate passed the Temporary Reauthorization and Study of the Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act (S. 3201) by unanimous consent last week. The bill would extend for 15 months the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) authority to regulate all new fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs. The previous order was scheduled to expire in February. A deal was reached on a temporary extension by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who had expressed concerns that a permanent measure would negatively impact research on pain medications. The administration urged passage of the bill during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on cannabis last week. During the hearing, the panel considered six marijuana-related bills and heard testimony from the DEA, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Relatedly, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security has announced a hearing titled “Fentanyl Analogues: Perspectives on Classwide Scheduling” on Tuesday, January 28 at 10:00 am EST.


Education and Labor Marks Up Pregnancy Discrimination Bill


The House Education and Labor Committee has passed legislation that would expand protections against discrimination for pregnant employees. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694) was advanced by a vote of 29-17. It would require that businesses employing more than 15 people provide reasonable accommodation to pregnant workers, while allowing them to continue working throughout pregnancy and after childbirth. Employers and employees would negotiate such accommodations through a process established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employees seeking accommodation would be required to communicate their pregnancy or other related conditions to their employer and ask for an accommodation. Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) were the only GOP panel members to vote in support of the bill. Other Republicans on the committee raised concerns about the impact of the bill on religious-affiliated employers.


AAPS Suing Over Vaccine Misinformation Oversight


The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is suing Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accusing him of pressuring technology companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon to curb medically inaccurate information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The group, which is skeptical of the necessity of mandatory vaccinations, is asking that the U.S. District Court of D.C. force Rep. Schiff to delete all materials related to his oversight efforts on medically inaccurate vaccine information. AAPS argues that the actions taken by the tech giants in response to letters from Rep. Schiff have negatively impacted its reputation and reduced traffic to its website.


Democrats Question DOL About Mental Health Parity


Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor have written to Labor Department Assistant Secretary Preston Rutledge regarding the enforcement of federal mental health parity law. The letter asserts that the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is not sufficiently providing mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) care under the law. In the letter, the members request documents from EBSA outlining steps the agency is taking to safeguard such benefits and ensure that plans comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).


Lawmakers Request Review of IHS Facilities


Bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that the agency review patient access to quality health care in the Indian Health Service (IHS). The letter asserts that IHS’ aging infrastructure may be negatively impacting the outcome of patient care. The average age of IHS-owned facilities is 35 years, while the average age of private-sector health care facilities is 10 years. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Calif.), and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) ask that the GAO review efforts to maintain, renovate, or replace aging infrastructure and medical equipment, as well as the implementation of new IHS programs and technologies to increase capacity to provide patient care.


E&C Republicans Request information on AD/ADRD Research


Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking federal health agencies for information about what they are doing to advance Alzheimer’s disease treatments and cures. In a letter sent to HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Brenda Destro, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert R. Redfield, M.D, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director of National Institute on Aging (NIA) Richard J. Hodes, M.D., the lawmakers request details on what barriers stand in the way of an Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias (AD/ADRD) cure, and what Congress can do to help overcome such barriers. The letter was signed by Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), and Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas).



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