Blumenthal Welcomes Obama Administration Actions to Stem the Tide of Opioid Abuse

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) welcomed new actions announced by the Obama Administration to combat the opioid epidemic by expanding access to treatment, strengthening prescription drug monitoring, advancing prescriber education and responsible prescribing practices, and enabling the safe disposal of unneeded drugs.

“Despite these welcome steps, stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic requires a public health initiative of historic magnitude with real Congressional commitment and resources. Today, there is good news, but so much more is needed.”

“The Obama Administration announced new actions that make critical advances in key areas of the fight to combat this deadly drug epidemic, like expanding access to treatment and improving education for prescribers. And earlier today, drug manufacturer Pfizer agreed to a new written code of conduct for the marketing of prescription opioids, which will help provide health care providers and patients with clear warnings of the dangers and limited effectiveness of long-term opioid use.”

“But to truly make advances in the public health war on prescription drugs and opioids, Congress must come to table. Our communities desperately need long-overdue federal resources to tackle this deadly epidemic head on,” Blumenthal said.

After conducting a series of nine roundtables across Connecticut in 2015, Blumenthal released his comprehensive report Opioid Addiction: A Call to Action. This detailed report, which includes a multipronged legislative and regulatory plan of action, came after Blumenthal’s meetings with first responders, law enforcement, addiction recovery experts, and people personally affected by opioid addiction.

Blumenthal has also championed the provisions of Senator Baldwin’s Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opiod Safety Act that are included in the Veterans First Act, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve polices and training related to opioid prescribing to improve safety and accountability.

Both in his report and in legislation, Blumenthal has supported several targeted strategies to address opioid abuse. Among actions announced by the Obama Administration today were several steps called for by Blumenthal, including:

Expanding Access to Treatment

Today, HHS is finalizing revisions to the regulations that cap the number of patients a physician can treat with medication-assisted therapies, including suboxone and buprenorphine. Although studies show medication-assisted therapies to be highly effective, there is significant under-treatment due to federal limitations. In 2012, of the 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids, fewer than one million received medication-assisted therapy.

Under today’s announcement, HHS is issuing a final rule increasing from 100 to 275 the number of patients that qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorders can treat.

Blumenthal has cosponsored the Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act), which would not only lift the cap on the number of patients physicians can treat using medication assisted therapies, but would also allow nurse practitioners and physicians assistants trained in addiction medicine to treat patients with medication assisted therapies.

Prescription Drug Monitoring at the Department of Veterans Affairs

Prescription narcotic drugs are the number one cause of overdoses in the United States. Prescription drug monitoring programs help monitor prescription drugs, provide information to health care providers and offer educational outreach.

Under today’s announcement, VA health care providers will be required to check their State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) before prescribing opioids or other controlled substances. This will help VA health care providers determine if a patient is already receiving opioids or other controlled substances from another provider.

Blumenthal has supported collaboration between VA and states to allow VA providers to check relevant PDMPs including calling on VA to ensure access to Connecticut’s PDMP in a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing last year.

Advancing Prescriber Education

HHS is expanding access to resources health care providers can use to stem the overprescribing of opioids. Under today’s announcement, HHS is moving forward with prescriber education and training programs by seeking provider, consumer and other public comment on current guidelines.

Blumenthal has co-sponsored legislation – the Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act – introduced by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) that would require prescribers of opioid pain medications and other controlled substances to undergo mandatory training on safe prescribing practices and the identification of possible substance use disorders.

Promoting Responsible Opioid Prescribing

Currently, patient survey results are factored into Medicare payments to hospitals. Questions specifically related to pain management could have the unintended effect of pressuring physicians to prescribe opioids in order to ensure high patient satisfaction scores and reimbursement. Under today’s announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) propose removing questions regarding pain management questions from the hospital scoring calculation. This means that hospitals would continue to use the questions to survey patients about their in-patient pain management experience, but these questions would not affect the level of payment hospitals receive.

Blumenthal has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to reduce the pressure doctors currently face that may lead to overprescribing painkilling drugs called opioids. The Promoting Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) Act would ensure that pain management questions on patient surveys would not factor into Medicare reimbursement calculations.

Increasing the Safe Disposal of Unneeded Prescription Opioids

On Saturday, October 12, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will hold its 12th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible way of disposing of unneeded prescription drugs. More than 6.4 million pounds of medication have been collected over the last eleven Take Back Days.