Sen. Tina Smith Helps Introduce Bill to Make Sure Veteran, Minority, and Immigrant Farmers Have Access to USDA Services

U.S. Senator Tina Smith said that her measure to expand mental health services for students and communities in Minnesota and across the country has been included in a larger bipartisan bill to address the nation’s opioid crisis.

Sen. Smith said her Improving Access to Mental Health Services Act was added to a package of legislation designed to sharpen the federal government’s response to a crisis that continues to devastate families and communities across the nation. Tomorrow, the larger bill is expected to be debated in the Health and Education Committee, of which Sen. Smith is a member.

“Lawmakers often talk about the urgent need to address opioid misuse and the shortage of mental health and substance use disorder services,” said Sen. Smith. “We need to do more than just talk—we need to get legislation passed. This legislative package takes on the opioid crisis in a meaningful way, and I’m pleased to announce that it includes my measure to expand access to mental health services in schools and local communities. I’m hoping we can get this proposal passed into law with bipartisan support.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, mental health conditions occur in young people about as often as they do in adults—about 1 in 5 have a mental health condition—but young people frequently have a hard time accessing mental health care. Sen. Smith’s Improving Access to Mental Health Services Actwhich she originally introduced with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), would give “National Health Service Corps” mental health professionals more flexibility to practice and deliver care in schools and communities.

In addition to Sen. Smith’s measure, the larger bill—the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018—would do the following:

  • Spur development of non-addictive painkillers, and other strategies to prevent, treat, and manage pain and substance use disorders through additional flexibility for the NIH and clarifying guidance from the FDA.
  • Encourage responsible prescribing behavior by clarifying FDA authority to require packaging options for certain drugs, such as opioids to allow a set treatment duration, for example “blister packs,” for patients who may only need a 3 or 7 day supply of opioids.
  • Clarify FDA authorities to require manufacturers to give patients simple and safe options to dispose of unused opioids.
  • Improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, through stronger FDA and Customer Border Protection coordination.
  • Clarify FDA’s development and regulatory pathways for medical product manufacturers through guidance for new non-addictive and non-opioid pain products.
  • Provide support for states to improve their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and encourage data sharing between states so doctors and pharmacies can know if patients have a history of substance misuse.
  • Authorize CDC’s work to combat the opioid crisis, including providing grants for states, localities, and tribes to collect data and implement key prevention strategies.
  • Address the effects of the opioids crisis on infants, children, and families, including by helping states improve plans of safe care for infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and helping to address child and youth trauma. 
  • Authorize the Department of Labor to address the economic and workforce impacts for communities affected by the opioid crisis, through grants targeted at workforce shortages for the substance use and mental health treatment workforce, and to align job training and treatment services.
  • Update Drug Enforcement Administration regulations to improve treatment access for patients in rural and underserved areas through telemedicine, while maintaining proper safeguards. 
  • Allow hospice programs to safely and properly dispose of unneeded controlled substances to help reduce the risk of diversion and misuse.