By Ripon Advance News

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) on Aug. 28 unveiled bipartisan legislation aimed at giving prescribers and pharmacists a new means for protecting Americans from being over-prescribed drugs, which have contributed to the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States.

“It remains critical that we innovate and use new technologies to battle the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our nation and taking the lives of so many vulnerable victims,” Rep. Comstock said.

The Analyzing and Leveraging Existing Rx Transactions (ALERT) Act of 2018, H.R. 6688, would combat the national prescription drug abuse epidemic via creation of the Prescription Safety Alert System for covered drug products, according to the text of the bill in the congressional record.

“Fighting the battle against opioid and prescription drug abuse requires an all-of-the-above community approach and our pharmacists are on the frontlines of this battle and many are witnesses to this abuse every day,” said Rep. Comstock, an original cosponsor of H.R. 6688.

U.S. Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and Ann Kuster (D-NH), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, were the main sponsor and original cosponsor of H.R. 6688, respectively.

“We absolutely have to get smarter about how we use technology and data analysis to fight this crisis,” Rep. MacArthur said. “This crisis does not discriminate. It affects all of us, and it will take all of us working together to beat it. We need to give ourselves every tool we can.”

If enacted, H.R. 6688 would provide a pharmacist with an alert that someone might be at risk of overuse based on their prescription history, or could be “doctor-shopping to feed their addiction,” said Rep. MacArthur.

Under H.R. 6688, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would collaborate on establishing the alert system with the private sector to analyze the transaction data that gets generated each time a prescription is filled. Then, the system would provide real-time feedback at the point of sale, according to Comstock’s Aug. 31 statement.

Currently, most states operate Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, which allow prescribers and pharmacists to track prescription drug use, according to the congresswoman’s staff. However, such systems often aren’t updated in real-time, to the disadvantage of pharmacists.

The current systems also are prone to user error because prescribers and pharmacists must manually input and check the data in a separate system.

Rep. Comstock said that alerts created under H.R. 6688 would make real-time data available “and help those addicted to prescription painkillers get the help they so desperately need.”

“We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis, instead we must ensure our healthcare providers have critical tools like this alert system that can help prevent abuse and overdoses before it’s too late,” she added.

Rep. Kuster noted that H.R. 6688 complements existing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and maintains patient privacy, among other purposes. “I look forward to continuing to work across the aisle to advance measures to take on this crisis and save lives,” the congresswoman said.

The Brain Injury Association of America, Walgreens, the eRx Network, and RelayHealth Pharmacy Solutions, among others, expressed support for the ALERT Act, as did several industry organizations representing pharmacies, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment experts, and heath technology providers.

H.R. 6688 has been referred to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

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