12.08.15

Murray: Opioid Epidemic is a “Challenge That Cannot Go Unmet”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a hearing on Opioid Abuse in America: Facing the Epidemic and Examining Solutions. In her remarks, Murray explained that far too many families in Washington state and across the country are struggling because of the epidemic of opioid addiction, and that more work must be done to improve prevention and treatment. Murray outlined some of her priorities for tackling the epidemic, including ensuring opioids are consistently prescribed for clinically appropriate reasons, improving distribution of life-saving Naloxone to prevent overdose, and improving access to medication-assisted therapy.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“…Opioid use is a serious problem in my home state of Washington as well.  Compared to the early 2000s, University of Washington researchers found that drug deaths involving opioids have increased 31 percent.  And publicly funded inpatient admissions for opioid-related treatment have increased 197 percent over the same time period.”

 

“These statistics are deeply disturbing. But what’s worse is the suffering behind these numbers. Millions of lives taken completely off track, mothers and fathers who worry about the late-night calls they might get—or what it means if no call comes through, and communities across the country that have had to do without the contributions of those whom addiction seized. As a parent and grandparent, and as a U.S. Senator, I believe the opioid epidemic is a challenge that cannot go unmet.”

 

“I believe we need to find ways to ensure that opioids are consistently prescribed for clinically appropriate reasons. We should make sure that patients in pain are able to get the help they need, and that they are also being treated according to clinical best practices. And that means taking a close look at prescriber guidelines. Washington state was one of the first to develop prescribing guidelines for opioids, and has a law in place to ensure that these guidelines are regularly updated. This is a valuable tool to help prevent unnecessary access and non-medical use.”

 

“I’m also very interested in making sure that when doctors prescribe opioids, they have full information about whether their patient already has a prescription, and how often they need refills.  There’s simply no reason a person struggling with addiction should be able to ‘doctor-shop’ and get multiple prescriptions. That’s not only bad for those suffering from opioid abuse—it also takes time away from true medical needs that doctors’ offices and emergency rooms have to address. My home state has developed a system for tracking the use of prescription opioids to crack down on unnecessary prescriptions.”

 

“In addition to taking action to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place, we also need to improve treatment and prevent overdose. One important way to do this is to expand access to Naloxone, which acts to reverse the effects of an ongoing overdose. Policies that allow people without medical backgrounds to administer Naloxone—and that make sure this treatment is readily available in communities—have been shown to save lives.”

 

“Access to medication-assisted therapy is another barrier to treatment. The most commonly used drug to treat addiction is buprenorphine, but providers with the training to prescribe it can only treat a number of patients. Earlier this fall, President Obama announced that the administration aims to increase the number of buprenorphine prescribers in the United States from 30,000 to 60,000 over the next three years. That’s an ambitious goal—but I believe it would go a long way toward making sure that when people suffering from substance use disorders seek treatment, they can get it.”

 

“The bottom line is that every day that a child loses a parent, or a parent loses a child, to this crisis is a day too many. I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree. I’m looking forward to working together on ways to end this epidemic, so that families and communities don’t have to suffer from more losses. We’ve seen far too many already.”  

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. And to all of our witnesses, thank you for coming today to share your expertise.

 

“The conversation we’re having today could not be more important—because the epidemic of opioid abuse is being felt across our country.

“According to the CDC, forty four people die each day in the United States from prescription painkillers.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that in one month alone, 4.3 million people use prescription painkillers without a medical reason.

“And opioid use is a serious problem in my home state of Washington as well.  Compared to the early 2000s, University of Washington researchers found that drug deaths involving opioids have increased 31 percent.  And publicly funded inpatient admissions for opioid-related treatment have increased 197 percent over the same time period.

 

“These statistics are deeply disturbing. But what’s worse is the suffering behind these numbers.

 

“Millions of lives taken completely off track, mothers and fathers who worry about the late-night calls they might get—or what it means if no call comes through, and communities across the country that have had to do without the contributions of those whom addiction seized.

“As a parent and grandparent, and as a U.S. Senator, I believe the opioid epidemic is a challenge that cannot go unmet.

“So I’m very glad we will have the opportunity today to hear from experts, including someone who has lived through addiction, who are dedicated to tackling this.

“There are a few key issues related to prevention and treatment that I am especially interested in.

 

“I believe we need to find ways to ensure that opioids are consistently prescribed for clinically appropriate reasons. We should make sure that patients in pain are able to get the help they need, and that they are also being treated according to clinical best practices.

 

“And that means taking a close look at prescriber guidelines. Washington state was one of the first to develop prescribing guidelines for opioids, and has a law in place to ensure that these guidelines are regularly updated. This is a valuable tool to help prevent unnecessary access and non-medical use.

 

“I’m also very interested in making sure that when doctors prescribe opioids, they have full information about whether their patient already has a prescription, and how often they need refills.  There’s simply no reason a person struggling with addiction should be able to ‘doctor-shop’ and get multiple prescriptions.

“That’s not only bad for those suffering from opioid abuse—it also takes time away from true medical needs that doctors’ offices and emergency rooms have to address. 

 

“My home state has developed a system for tracking the use of prescription opioids to crack down on unnecessary prescriptions.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses about other best practices in this space.

“In addition to taking action to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place, we also need to improve treatment and prevent overdose.

“One important way to do this is to expand access to Naloxone, which acts to reverse the effects of an ongoing overdose.  

 

“Policies that allow people without medical backgrounds to administer Naloxone—and that make sure this treatment is readily available in communities—have been shown to save lives.

 

“Dr. Wen, I know this is something you’ve been focused on in your work—and I’m eager to hear more.

 

“Access to medication-assisted therapy is another barrier to treatment. The most commonly used drug to treat addiction is buprenorphine, but providers with the training to prescribe it can only treat a certain number of patients.

 

“Earlier this fall, President Obama announced that the administration aims to increase the number of buprenorphine prescribers in the United States from 30,000 to 60,000 over the next three years.

“That’s an ambitious goal—but I believe it would go a long way toward making sure that when people suffering from substance use disorders seek treatment, they can get it.

 

“Tackling this epidemic won’t be easy—and the steps I’ve laid out are a few of many we’ll need to take in order to do so. But I believe they would make a real difference for families and communities who are really suffering right now.

 

“The bottom line is that every day that a child loses a parent, or a parent loses a child, to this crisis is a day too many.

“I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree.

“I’m looking forward to working together on ways to end this epidemic, so that families and communities don’t have to suffer from more losses. We’ve seen far too many already.  

 

“Thank you all again for joining us—and now I’ll turn it back over to Chairman Alexander.”