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House Passes Pascrell Alternatives to Opioids Legislation

Bill Creates Federal Program Based on Successes Seen at Paterson Hospital

U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) today applauded the passage in the House of Representatives of H.R. 5197, the Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) in the Emergency Department Act. Pascrell is the primary House sponsor of the legislation which is modeled on an innovative program that reduces the use of opioids, pioneered at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey.

“I am heartened that the House passed our legislation to combat the catastrophic opioid epidemic that continues to bedevil every city and community in the United States. With strong bipartisan support, our bill will help implement novel, preventative measures that have proven so effective in my hometown in pulling Americans away from opioid dependence,” said Rep. Pascrell.  “This is a moment for the team at St. Joseph’s led by Dr. Rosenberg and Kevin Slavin to take a bow. Their brilliant work is one step closer to becoming a model for so many other healthcare providers seeking ways to reduce the massive amounts of unnecessary opioids getting into patients’ hands, and ultimately break the opioid dependence harming their communities. What St. Joe’s helped start in Paterson will soon be saving lives across America.”

“Developing alternatives to opioids for pain treatment is an issue we’ve been working on for years,” said Rep. David McKinley (R-WV-01), the lead original cosponsor of the legislation. “We’ve successfully increased funding for the National Institutes of Health, but we must do more to find alternatives in the emergency room, where many patients first come into contact with opioids. This bipartisan bill will provide much-needed funding to achieve this goal and help reduce our nation’s dependence on these dangerous pills.”

“In New Jersey and across our nation, we have seen far too many communities and families torn apart by opioid addiction,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “Our legislation is based on the successful practices of a New Jersey hospital that recognized the power of prevention and innovative approaches when it comes to effectively tackling this epidemic. I am pleased to see this bill pass the House, and l look forward to continuing our bipartisan work to move it through the Senate.”

“Successfully addressing our nation’s opioid addiction crisis requires us to be creative and to think outside the box about how to not only serve those individuals battling an addiction, but to effectively prevent addictions in the first place.  I’m pleased the House has passed this important legislation, and will continue the fight in the Senate to make this law,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “The New Jersey-based ALTO program is at the forefront of innovative thinking and coming up with new approaches to treating pain. This creative thinking and willingness to approach health care delivery in new ways is critical to moving our health care system forward, tackling the scourge of addiction, and saving lives.”

“Prescribing fewer opioids in hospitals all across the country as we are doing here in New Jersey will have a profound impact on reducing addiction and overdose.  I’m delighted the ALTO bill has passed and our legislators have stepped-up to bring real, tangible solutions to combat the opioid epidemic,” said Kevin Slavin, the President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health.

“This is a tremendous step forward in addressing the national opioid crisis, bringing evidence-based solutions to the first point of contact for thousands of Americans every day.  I applaud our legislators for coming together on this critical issue as the ALTO bill will surely save lives,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, DO, Chairman of Emergency Medicine and Chief Innovation Officer, St. Joseph’s Health.

The Alternatives to Opioids in the Emergency Department Act promotes preventative measures to tackle the opioid crisis. The legislation would establish a demonstration program to test alternative pain management protocols to limit the use of opioids in emergency departments. The legislation would provide grant funding to build these programs. Following the completion of the three-year demonstration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will submit a report to Congress on the results of the program and issue recommendations for broader implementation.

After years of ravaging communities across America, the opioid epidemic is showing no signs of abating. Of the 42,000 Americans who died in 2016 from opioids, 2,221 were New Jerseyans. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office estimates that drug deaths in the state could eclipse 3,000 this year, attributable almost entirely to opioids. Forty percent of these deaths involved a prescription opioid. In total, there are over 200 million opioid prescriptions written in the United States each year.

recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a startling 30 percent jump in emergency room visits for opioid overdoses from 2016 to 2017. The report noted that abuse is affecting all age groups and is present in all geographic regions in the nation, with the acting head of the CDC saying the epidemic is getting ‘worse.’ As a first line of defense for combatting the opioid epidemic, Emergency Departments are well-positioned to be laboratories of new innovations to combat the crisis.

Eager to try fresh approaches to address the epidemic, St. Joe's team, led by its director of emergency medicine, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, and hospital CEO, Kevin Slavin, created the Alternatives to Opiates, or ALTO, program. ALTO utilizes non-opioid protocols instead of painkiller prescriptions to treat common conditions that involve acute pain. In only two years, the St. Joseph’s ALTO program has decreased emergency department opioid prescriptions by more than 80 percent.

H.R. 5197 is sponsored by Reps. Pascrell, McKinley, Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), and Scott R. Tipton (R-CO-03), along with 20 additional bipartisan cosponsors.

Companion legislation in the Senate, S. 2516, is sponsored by Sens. Booker, Menendez, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). Provisions from that bill have been approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The legislation awaits action on the Senate floor.

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