Wednesday, July 30, 2014

H.R. 4709 Offers Little Help in the Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse

If you want to bill that purports to mitigate prescription drug misuse and abuse, but actually has no hope of doing so - well, look no further than the 113th Congress.  Turns out they can be counted on for something.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is sponsoring H.R. 4709 which passed the House yesterday and now heads to the Senate.  The bill's purpose is to "improve enforcement efforts related to prescription drug diversion and abuse..."  It does so by amending the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to more clearly define that certain drugs may represent an "imminent danger" to the public (though it doesn't name those medications, it just makes it possible to designate such medications) and to make it easier for the DEA to leverage the CSA to suspend certain medications that pose a substantial public health risk (though, of course, pharma companies are given the opportunity for remediation with the Attorney General before a drug is actually suspended).  The bill also calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to report back to Congress on law enforcement activities related to patient medication access and, in so doing, consult with every possible constituency and stakeholder on the planet (including tribal law enforcement agencies).

I wonder if anyone in Congress will ever have the courage to do what's actually needed.  Namely:

  • Take on the American Medical Association around the issue of mandatory physician education for pain management and opioid prescribing.  The AMA consistently argues such a measure would infringe upon the practice of medicine.  That ship has sailed.  The good doctors want this education and seek it out anyway.  Doctors who either aren't aware of the need for education or are willfully ignorant of best practices in opioid prescribing should be required to engage in such education before prescribing opioids.  
  • Provide more federal funding for state level Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and additional funding for a fully integrated, national PDMP database.  We're seeing regional efforts along these lines that are promising (see Ohio and Kentucky collaborating on PMIX), but more needs to be done in the areas of standardization, integration, data sharing, access, etc.  The federal dollars currently flowing to these initiatives are minuscule given the severity of the problem.  The Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act are both under-funded and under-utilized.  California legislators fought tooth and nail over $3 million to fund its CURES database and it's still woefully under-funded and under-utilized. The federal government's FY2015 HHS budget contains $10 million through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services to "help state substance abuse authorities develop comprehensive prevention approaches through collaboration with state partners and integration of health information exchange systems with strategic plans."  A) I don't know what that means; B) It's not enough.  
  • Leverage data and surveillance from the Medicare and Medicaid programs to identify and deal with high prescribers of opioid medications.  To be fair, the federal government is already working toward this.  See page 73 of the HHS budget overview.    
  • Take on the pharma companies through better Congressional oversight of the FDA approval process.  FDA is and should be an independent agency, but serious doubts have been cast regarding the agency's independence and consistency regarding approval of opioid analgesic formulations.  
More needs to be done.  More can be done.  HR 4709 has little chance of moving the needle.  

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