U.S. House Passes Two Bills to Help Fight Opioid Abuse

The U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed two bills aimed at fighting opioid abuse and its harmful effects. One bill would reauthorize federal funding to states for prescription drug monitoring programs, while the other would create uniform standards for diagnosing and treating newborns exposed to opioids.

The prescription drug monitoring bill, called the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Reauthorization Act (NASPER), would provide state funding to establish, implement and improve prescription drug monitoring programs, the Boston Herald reports. The programs are designed to help screen and treat people who are addicted to prescription opioids or at risk of becoming addicted, the article notes.

NASPER originally became law in 2005. It is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The reauthorization of NASPER would allow SAMHSA to provide grants to states for prescription drug monitoring programs, offering timely access to accurate prescription information.

The bill on diagnosing and treating newborns exposed to opioids, if passed by the Senate, would become the first federal measure to address the issue, according to the newspaper. The bill, called the Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015, is designed to reduce the problem of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies born with NAS undergo withdrawal from the addictive drugs their mothers took during pregnancy, such as oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone. Symptoms can include seizures, fever, excessive crying, tremors, vomiting and diarrhea, she said. Withdrawal can take several weeks to a month.

“Right now there is no standard for treatment with NAS,” bill author Katherine Clark, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, told the Herald. “This problem leads to long stays in the NICU and hundreds of millions in Medicaid dollars.”

In a news release, Clark noted, “Our nation‘s opioid crisis cuts across all boundaries, destroys lives, and has a devastating impact on hundreds of newborns every day.”