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Senate OK’s key drug abuse legislation

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Senate has passed the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 (S. 483), which is seen as striking a balance between fighting drug abuse and upholding legitimate drug use.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which supports the bill, said Friday that the measure would advance collaboration among health and enforcement authorities to achieve drug abuse solutions that maintain patients’ access to medications. The lead sponsors of the Senate bill are Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.).

In April 2015, the House of Representatives passed a similar version of the bill (H.R. 471), sponsored by Reps. Tom Marino (R., Pa.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Peter Welch (D., Vt.) and Judy Chu (D., Calif.).

Congressional leaders will need to determine the best path to achieving passage of the same legislative language in both chambers so the bill can advance to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law, NACDS noted.

“NACDS appreciates the diligence that has brought this legislation to the brink of enactment. Throughout, NACDS has emphasized pharmacy’s commitment to a zero-tolerance for abuse and diversion, and a 100% commitment to patient care. This legislation will help to deliver on that vision,” NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson said in a statement.

“All you have to do is see the suffering of those affected by prescription drug abuse, and the suffering of those affected by chronic pain, to know that there needs to be a genuine effort to address these complex problems simultaneously, strategically and sympathetically,” he added.

In an opinion study commissioned by NACDS last summer, voters indicated an appreciation for the need to address drug abuse and drug access in a complementary manner. Nearly eight in 10 respondents agreed with the statement, “Pharmacies have a dual role when it comes to battling prescription drug abuse. They have to be part of the solution by working with law enforcement officials to stop prescription drug abuse, but they also have to maintain their responsibilities to patients by making sure they receive the medications they legitimately need.”

The legislation has drawn support across the industry, including from the Healthcare Distribution Management Association (HDMA) and National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), which hailed the Senate’s passage of the bill.

“We applaud the Senate for recognizing the importance of increasing transparency and collaborative efforts in the fight against prescription drug abuse,” commented HDMA president and CEO John Gray. “The passage of S. 483, coupled with Senate’s approval of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), substantially enhances the range of tools now available to regulators, supply chain stakeholders and the broader health care community to effectively address the prescription drug abuse epidemic.”

NCPA noted that community pharmacists are on the front lines in providing patients with chronic pain access to vital medications and preventing prescription drug abuse.

“NCPA will continue to work constructively with policymakers, law enforcement and industry stakeholders to identify solutions that address both reducing drug abuse and preserving legitimate access needs. For example, NCPA supports expanded access to naloxone, enhanced prescription drug monitoring programs, increased prescriber education and more appropriate use of Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS),” NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey said in a statement.

“We commend Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and their colleagues on this legislation. We also appreciate the efforts of Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and his colleagues on their House companion legislation, H.R. 471. We encourage Congress to come together and send this bipartisan legislation to the White House for enactment into law.”

* Editor’s Note: Article updated with comment from HDMA and NCPA.


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