Congressman Markwayne Mullin has made the battle against opioid abuse one of his top priorities, and his efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
It may help that a judge has now ordered a manufacturer to pay $572 million for its purported role in pushing narcotics. The fact that doctors who overprescribe seem to be getting a pass is troubling, but some of the other activities may at least help stem the tide.
The Department of Health and Human Services wants to change federal regulations regarding confidentiality of patient records. This is necessary, Mullin says, if medical professionals are to treat substance use disorder. Until now, treatment has been hobbled by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
HIPAA was enacted with the best of intentions, but the extreme privacy that came with this restrictive law has made medical care unexpectedly difficult. If a physician can't access a patient's entire medical history, he will have a difficult time determining whether that individual has an additional problem wherein prescribed treatment or medication could be contraindicated. Reforms to 42 CFR Part 2 will keep privacy protections intact while giving doctors the data they need.
Mullin still wants Congress to bring what he calls an "outdated law" into the 21st century. He and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon have introduced the Overdoes Prevention and Patient Safety Act, which will help physicians use disorder treatment records the same way as they do other medical records - for diabetes, cancer and heart conditions, for instance. Mullin says HR 2062 will still guard against "unauthorized invasions of patient privacy and discriminatory activities," with enhanced enforcement penalties not currently part of the law.
Perhaps this measure will get attention from the Senate. Last year, HR 6082 - the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act - got what Mullin calls "overwhelming bipartisan support" in his house, yet stalled across the way.
Personal responsibility is a big factor in getting clean from addiction, but only an individual who has never witnessed the destruction this can have on human lives would argue that help isn't needed. Yes, that would be help from the government, in a sense, because drug addition has rapidly become a public health crisis. If it's not curtailed, all Americans will pay the price in terms of higher premiums, lost wages, family crises and more.
Balance is always going to be key, because as long as they aren't abused, opioids do play a vital role in helping some sufferers maintain productive lives. That should always be kept in mind whenever Congress proposes any action. This would seem to be a page in the playbook that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon.