Two bipartisan bills led by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware — bills that would help to combat the deadly opioid epidemic — were approved June 13 by the Senate Finance Committee, along with several other opioid-related bills that Carper co-sponsored.

The bills will now head to the full Senate for a vote.

Carper’s bills would help to improve and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid to better treat substance abuse and opioid abuse and also allow Medicare patients to access alternatives to opioid medications more quickly and easily.

“The bipartisan bills approved by the Finance Committee today are a step in the right direction as we work to find smart, effective ways to save lives,” said Carper. “Delaware may be small, but 87 people in the First State have lost their lives from opioid-related overdoses this year alone. An average of 20 people in Delaware die each month from an opioid-related overdose. That is far too many families who have suffered the loss of a loved one to addiction and substance abuse. Bipartisan and common-sense solutions are needed immediately to address this heartbreaking epidemic. While we’re still a long way from curbing this epidemic, we must continue to come together to implement practical and effective solutions that address one of the most lethal public health challenges in our country’s history.”

One of Carper’s bills, the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act (S.2904), will require Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to issue guidance to streamline, improve and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid to treat substance and opioid abuse, particularly among children, adult populations younger than 40, American Indians and Alaskan Natives and children receiving services in school-based health centers. Telehealth — which is the ability to provide health care services remotely to patients living in rural or less accessible areas — expanded services throughout Delaware. This bill would further improve those services for underserved and vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicaid.

The second piece of legislation, the Electronic Prior Authorization in Medicare Part D Act (S.2908), which Carper introduced with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, would improve and increase the use of electronic prior authorization, frequently called e-prior authorization, in Medicare Part D so that patients would receive faster access to alternatives to opioid medications for chronic and acute pain and improved access to medication-assisted treatment to treat opiate addiction. In 2015 alone, Delaware doctors wrote nearly 800,000 prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, which amounts to 80 prescriptions for every 100 persons. Through this legislation, patients would be able to get the alternatives to opioids and medication-assisted treatment more quickly, which could help save lives throughout the First State.

These bills will help to ensure that vulnerable populations in the First State, including children, seniors and low-income families, will not be forgotten in the fight against addiction. From July 2016 to September 2017 alone, Delaware saw a 105 percent increase in opioid overdose emergency department visits, and 154 Delawareans were lost to opioid-related overdoses.