A bump in the road for APRNs and Patients: The Senate Opioid SUD Legislative Package

  

ANA and other associations representing advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have been lobbying for years to make permanent the authority for Nurse Practitioners (NP) to prescribe medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for opioid-addicted patients and to extend the authority to the other three APRN specialties. ANA government affairs staff has been informed there are Senators with “holds” on this package meaning it can’t move forward until there are more negotiations. While we are disappointed the package does not currently include this provision, we still have several more bites at the apple.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (Public Law No: 114-198.), commonly referred to as CARA, included a provision that allowed NPs and Physician Assistants (PA) to take 24 hours of training to prescribe MAT for opioid-addicted patients. (This is referred to as “DATA 2000 waved” or just “DATA waved” authority.) This prescribing authority sunsets in 2021. The reason the prescribing authority is set to expire in 2021 was developed as a budgeting gimmick by Congress to keep the overall projected cost associated with CARA low. This provision was never intended to be a demonstration project – it was because Congress couldn’t find a way to offset the projected cost for permanent prescribing authority.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6), or the “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act” for short. Section 3003 of this bill has an agreed upon compromise version of what we have been lobbying for. It permanently extends the MAT prescribing authority for NPs and PAs and allows the other three APRN specialties the authority for five years. It also instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on the efficacy of prescribing MAT, and possible associated narcotics diversion issues, on all providers, including physicians. This would give the opportunity to for us to have data showing how important it is to have more access points for patients and that APRNs are just as qualified to treat opioid substance use disorder as physicians.

While this latest development is disappointing, it’s not over. Both the House and the Senate need to come together to pass identical legislation before any of this is signed into law. We have a large coalition of bipartisan legislators in the House and Senate who all agree that this is good policy. The current disagreement is over how to offset the projected cost estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The ANA, along with the other associations representing APRNs, are on top of this issue and will be fighting for the inclusion of Section 3003 into any final package. It’s not over.

Further Reading

The CBO’s scoring rules for determining the cost of legislation are very complicated, convoluted, and don’t always make logical sense. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) isn’t held to CBO’s scoring rules, and in January 2018, published an economic impact study on CARA. They found that from when the DATA 2000 waiver began through February 21, 2017, there were 33,663 DATA-waived physicians compared to 1,247,716 total physicians. Since February 2017, when NPs could first obtain the DATA 2000 waiver until May 5, 2018, 5,649 NPs have obtained a DATA 2000 waiver compared to 248,000 total NPs. That means proportionately, in less than two years, NPs have received almost as many waivers as physicians received in 17 years (2.3 percent of NPs v. 2.7 percent of physicians).

The DEA estimates that the total economic burden of the opioid epidemic is $75.7 billion, which amounts to $41,000 per patient. They also estimate that the net economic benefit of authorizing NPs and PAs to provide MAT, primarily due to increased labor productivity and decreased healthcare and legal costs, will be $640-729 million dollars over five years. Based on the DEA’s estimate that 5,235 NPs and PAs would obtain the waiver, this amounts to an average costs savings of approximately $122,254-139,255 for every NP or PA obtaining the waiver.

ANA strongly believes that extending the prescribing authority to the other APRN specialties will only further the success of this policy. ANA advocates for all RNs and APRNs to practice to the full extent of their education and practice authority, allowing individualized treatment plans for all patients and increased access to health care services, including MAT.

For additional information or comments, please contact Sam Hewitt, ANA’s senior associate director for federal government relations at Samuel.hewitt@ana.org

Looking at Congress to help fight the opioid epidemic

  

Last week, Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo) office released a report finding that over the last six years, enough opioids were shipped into the state of Missouri to give every resident 260 pills. While that is a snapshot of just one state, combine that news with the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and similar drugs nearly doubled between the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017, and it becomes clear that the opioid crisis is still destroying the lives of individuals, families, and communities in epic proportions.

These reports follow a new CDC alert to public health and health care professionals about the increased availability of illicit synthetic opioids, the second update to the health advisory since October 2015. As the crisis continues to transform, health care providers, government agencies and Congress are also changing their tactics to fight this epidemic.

Over the past few weeks of extensive negotiations, the House of Representatives wrapped up multiple proposed opioid crisis bills into one large package, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6). This iteration of the bill would grant Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants permanent authority to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) while the other three Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) professions (Certified Nurse-Midwives, Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) would have authorization for five years. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act would also require a study of the efficacy of providing MAT by all providers, including physicians. H.R. 6 will now move to the Senate where there has been concern over the CBO estimated cost of $395 million over a 10-year period. Given the important role that treatment has in solving this epidemic, ANA does not believe this cost should impede the passing of this bill and increase access to life saving treatment to those suffering from substance use disorders.

Medication-Assisted Treatment has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment for opioid use disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that combined with behavioral therapy, effective MAT programs for opioid addiction decrease overdose deaths resulting in cost savings, reduce transmissions of HIV and hepatitis C related to IV drug use, and mitigate associated criminal activity. Along with APRNs providing MAT services, all nurses with their roles as direct care givers, care coordinators, educators, and patient advocates play a pivotal role in solving this crisis by helping patients and their families understand the risks and benefits of pain treatment options.

ANA will continue to work with Congress, federal agencies, and our partners in the Nursing Community to fight to expand the nurse’s role in solving the opioid crisis. We urge everyone to now call their Senators in support of Senate bill S.2317 (Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2018) and ensure that they include it in any opioid package that is passed.

The White House proposes using capital punishment to curb the opioid epidemic

  

Congress, government agencies, foundations, communities, and health care providers have been developing and implementing policies to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic for years. Nurses are on the frontline and in the trenches treating chronic pain, substance misuse, and mental health issues. Many health related policies and regulations are still ineffective in fixing the opioid epidemic, but we do know that using a criminal justice route to solve a public health problem will not succeed in its intent. But just this week, President Trump called for the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, for “certain drug dealers” in order to curb the opioid epidemic.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) opposes both capital punishment and nurse participation in capital punishment. Capital punishment and penalizing those convicted of certain classes of crimes by killing them violates the most basic human right, the right to life and liberty. The ethical standards of the profession obligates nurses to protect human rights and practice with respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every. Instead ANA advocates  for increasing access to Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), access to mental health services, and patient centered education.

The Trump administrations plan also includes a federally backed ad campaign to prevent non-prescribed opioid use. Education needs to extend past prevention measure to include safe use, storage, and disposal. Proper disposal of unused pills ensures that fewer opioids reach unintended persons and markets, and in turn, less misuse of narcotics.

Health care providers, public health officials, and law enforcement need to work together to implement proven policies that help all individuals and communities. Instead of taking a criminal justice path, such as the failed drug policies of the “just say no” campaign, which history has shown to perpetuate public health issues, officials need to take an interdisciplinary approach to address the underlying health, economic, social, and educational causes of drug use in both urban and rural communities. ANA is actively advocating for nurses through advising federal agencies, supporting federal legislation, and connecting members with their representatives to ensure the voices of nurses are heard.