Washington, D.C. - The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee this week passed three bills sponsored by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet to help address the country's mental health crisis and to help ensure Americans suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorders receive the care they need. The committee also passed additional legislation to help tackle the opioid epidemic by addressing prevention and treatment efforts to fight opioid addiction and abuse.
"Our country is facing serious challenges in the mental health crisis and the opioid epidemic that have gripped our country," Bennet said. "The bills we passed in committee create new tools to help individuals suffering from addiction and support efforts by health care providers to offer effective treatment while preventing further abuse. They also give our colleges, and particularly college mental health professionals, resources to educate students and faculty about the warning signs and offer treatment to those that need it. The Senate should quickly pass these bills."
Background on Bennet's bills:
- Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act: This bill, also sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Susan Collins (R-ME), would require states to ensure that a "plan of safe care" is developed for drug-dependent infants before they leave the hospital. These plans have been underutilized for infants suffering withdrawal symptoms due to opioid or alcohol abuse during pregnancy. This bill would ensure that a "Plan of Safe Care" is developed for these infants. It clarifies existing law to ensure that the plans are developed and that the Department of Health and Human Services monitors progress and disseminates best practices to states.
- Reducing Unused Medications Act: Introduced with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), this amendment would allow prescriptions for opioid medications to be partially filled by pharmacists at the request of patients or doctors, reducing the number of unused painkillers. Reducing the amount of unused prescription painkillers is a critical part of addressing the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic. Current Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations permit drugs in schedules III, IV, and V to be partially filled, but the regulations are narrower and less clear for schedule II drugs, including prescription opioids. The Reducing Unused Medications Act and the amendment adopted by the committee resolve any ambiguity and clear the way for states considering partial fill policies to act.
- Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act: This bill, introduced with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) would provide funding to colleges to focus on both the outreach and treatment of students with mental health needs. It establishes a grant program to assist colleges and universities in providing direct mental health services and outreach to students, families, and staff to increase awareness of mental health issues. It also directs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a public health awareness campaign around mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness for students. It would also establish an interagency working group on college mental health to discuss mental and behavioral health concerns and promote federal agency collaboration to support innovations in mental health services and supports for students on college and university campuses.