CDC Appoints Painkiller Work Group

The board of scientific counselors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has voted to establish a 10-person work group to review the CDC’s draft guideline on opioid prescriptions. The work group is in part a response to criticisms about the lack of transparency in the drafting of the guidelines and the limited public input received, especially from patients. The work group will be comprised of one chronic pain patient advocate and a range of academic and clinical experts. It also includes two members of the board of scientific counselors. The agency has received nearly 2,000 comments on the draft opioid prescribing guideline, which was published last month.

President Announces Executive Actions on Gun Violence

This week, the President announced executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence in the United States. He stated his intentions to tighten rules on background checks, proposed a more detailed definition of which gun sellers must apply for a federal dealers license, and new requirements for reporting guns lost or stolen in transit. The announcement also included a request to Congress for an additional $500 million in federal funds to go toward the treatment of mental illness. Additionally, the administration released a final rule that will allow health care providers to share certain mental health information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) gun background check system. Federal law prohibits gun ownership by individuals who have been involuntarily committed or found incompetent to stand trial or deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves. But such information sharing was previously limited under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) privacy rule without patient consent. This rule will allow the disclosure of such information for the purposes of background checks. The President has called gun deaths one of the biggest public health threats facing the country.

Mental Health on the Hill

Congress plans to make progress on a number of mental health initiatives during the coming month. The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a full committee markup of Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-Pa.) bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646). The bill faces opposition from Democrats on the Health Subcommittee, but has dozens of Democratic cosponsors in the full chamber. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is planning on discussing Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy’s (R-La.) mental health reform bill on January 20, though an official markup has yet to be scheduled. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to schedule a hearing on Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) mental health and criminal justice reform bill as well, which faces Democratic opposition due to the included language on guns. Additionally, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have announced that they will introduce legislation to expand upon the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which would increase funding for community health clinics. The Senators previously championed this bill in 2014. The law currently provides funding for a trial program for states to create community mental health centers that offer services such as 24-hour crisis and psychiatric care. The bill announced last week would expand funding under the law from 8 states to 24 states – estimated at $1.7 billion in new funding.

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