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Capsule: Health Wonks’ Super Bowl and State Opioid Updates

Jan. 13, 2020, 10:46 AM

Welcome to Capsule, where we’ll give you your weekly dose of what to watch out for in the health-care space. Each week reporters Ayanna Alexander and Jacquie Lee get you prepped for the week’s hottest health-care topics.

Jacquie: Lawmakers will discuss states’ efforts to address the opioid crisis on Tuesday and how the federal government can help. Health agencies have laid out several initiatives to cut back on overdose deaths and get more people into drug treatment.

The federal Medicare and Medicaid agency announced in September that states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic will get $48.5 million to improve their substance abuse treatment programs. Pharmacists have also been given authority to offer naloxone—the opioid overdose antidote—to people without a prescription as part of the government’s efforts to quell deaths.

Those types of initiatives take time to spread though. Research has indicated that naloxone isn’t accessible enough in rural areas due to resource restrictions. Tuesday’s hearing will likely focus on ways the federal government and states can better communicate with one another, and how state efforts have stalled because of funding delays or health-care providers not understanding what’s expected of them.

The Government Accountability Office found the federal government has shortcomings as well when it comes to implementing legislation to control the opioid epidemic. The office in charge of overseeing federal drug control policy hasn’t met certain requirements set out in the sweeping opioid law President Donald Trump signed into law last year, a December report found.

Expect lawmakers to dig into that report on Tuesday too and make sure to follow our colleague, Alex Ruoff, for updates.

Ayanna: The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will hold its monthly advisory committee meeting on Wednesday—the first of the new year and new decade.

What comes to mind in the world of health technology? Sources say that the seamless exchange of health information is still at the forefront, despite the fact that the agency’s data sharing provision is still sitting at the White House.

How much the ONC can discuss on the measure remains to be seen. We’ll definitely be looking out for potential updates.

What Else We’re Watching

Health-care officials, investors, executives, and more than 9,000 other attendees will gather in San Francisco starting Monday at the 38th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference to discuss a wide variety of health-care priorities such as innovative technology, data privacy and security, price transparency, and data sharing. Guests will hear from representatives from tech giants such as Google and Microsoft, pharmaceutical power players such as Novartis, and federal officials from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Just a reminder: this event is like the Super Bowl for health-care wonks. It’s so busy that people meet in the bathrooms to get some quiet time. Our colleague, Joyce Cutler, is attending so be sure to say hello if you see her (but probably wait until she’s out of the bathroom first.)

Speaking of opioids, the FDA will be holding meetings over three days to discuss the safety of new opioid drugs: one from Nektar Therapeutics called oxycodegol that treats chronic lower back pain; one called tramadol from Esteve Pharmaceuticals for acute pain; and bupivacaine from DURECT Corp. that treats pain after surgery. Clinicians will discuss the drugs’ abuse potentials, which will undoubtedly lead to a debate over pain treatment and how to ensure those with chronic pain have access to the drugs they need while not exposing others to unnecessary risk of addiction.

Finally, the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health is holding a hearing on Wednesday that will explore cannabis health policies moving forward.

The hearing comes shortly after another House panel approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) and ordered the measure to be amended. The provision would decriminalize cannabis and allows states to develop their own policies surrounding the drug. The Senate counterpart, which was introduced last July, hasn’t gained any traction since.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at aalexander@bloomberglaw.com; Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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