ATLANTA – Seven perspectives. Two political parties. One mission.
Representatives from both the U.S. House and Senate addressed nearly 1,400 attendees of the fourth National Rx Drug Abuse Summit Wednesday, April 8, to discuss current and planned legislation addressing what has become a national crisis.
“This is an American issue,” proclaimed U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. “When you see Democrats and Republicans come together on an issue like this, I think that should give you some hope.”
Effective policy change is not always easy, but not impossible, to achieve, Manchin said, noting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to reschedule Hydrocodone combination drugs in 2014.
U.S. Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) touched on two related priorities: implementation of mandatory prescriber education and continuing to improve state-run prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
“Every state – except Missouri, I might add – currently has a PDMP that provides physicians with a critical glimpse at their patients’ prescription history,” Rogers said. “Over half of these states are sharing data with one another, thanks in large part to the leadership of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and we are making impressive strides to more seamlessly integrate PDMP data into doctor workflow.”
“We still have a long way to go, but in the next few years PDMPs should absolutely become a part of the standard of care for anyone prescribing a prescription painkiller,” Rogers said.
As the only pharmacist in Congress, U.S. Representative Earl “Buddy” Carter (GA-1st), said he brings a unique perspective to the arena.
“I’ve seen how (Rx pill addiction) ruins families and ruins careers,” said Carter, who authored Georgia’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) law. Carter wants to see PDMPs across the country be able to share information in real time and work seamlessly across state borders.
“You don’t want government in your medicine cabinet,” Carter commented, “but the problem that we have is far greater than the intrusion.”
It is important for people to take a stand and to educate both physicians and the public, said U.S. Representative William R. “Bill” Keating (MA-9th).
“One thing we can’t wait until next year to do is deal with this issue,” Keating said, calling the current crisis “a societal wrong-doing … fueled by misinformation, ignorance and stigma.”
That includes making sure the medical community knows what is available.
“We have to stop the mentality of ‘opiates first’,” Keating said. “We understand there is a need to deal with pain … (but) doctor, you don’t understand about pain. When you lose (a family member) that kind of pain doesn’t go away.”
“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference,” Keating said. “The power of the person is much stronger than the power of the pill.”
“For me, it’s about that delicate balance between good medicine and good policy,” commented Representative Evan Jenkins (WV-3rd). He said it was important to provide the right care, at the right place at the right time.
U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (MA-5th) focused her remarks on the need to address Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome – a condition where babies are born with an opiate dependence from their mothers’ drug addiction.
“We have to do better by these children. We have to do better by their moms,” Clark said. “We are looking at two people, not just one.”
Each of the legislators spoke about “the new prescription abuse problem” to face the country – legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use – but none as passionately as U.S. Representative Andrew “Andy” Harris (MD-1st).
As a “physician legislator,” Dr. Harris said he was concerned about the “incrementalism of marijuana legislation,” especially when there are no safeguards in place to protect children.
“That’s not the way we should deal with such a dangerous drug,” Harris said, adding “marijuana is pretty clearly a gateway drug” that has not been shown to be safe or medically effective. He urged more research on marijuana and its components – “just like we do for other drugs.”
In his remarks, Rogers said he was pleased that the FDA had finalized its guidance on abuse-deterrent medications.
“This is a huge step forward in my assessment,” Rogers said. “It sends a strong message to (the drug) industry that it is a safe bet to make the requisite investments in these new, emerging technologies that make painkillers more difficult to abuse. It creates incentives for innovation – and I’m hopeful that somewhere out there is a young scientist with our silver bullet.”
The legislators announced four pieces of legislation that they are either currently sponsoring or intend to introduce related to prescription drug abuse:
- Rx Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act – This act funds a grant program for states and nonprofit entities for consumer education about opioid abuse, including methadone abuse, and sets forth training requirements for practitioners.
- FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act – This act would ensure that “expert voices are heard” on any review of opioid medications and make the FDA commissioner more responsible to Congress for new-drug approvals. This bill is in reaction to the recent approval of Zohodro despite overwhelming opposition by an FDA advisory panel.
- Protecting Our Infants Act – This act would take proactive steps to deal with opiate dependency in newborns.
- A yet-to-be-named act that would break down regulatory hurdles and licensing barriers for new programs and new methods of care for treating addiction.