Walorski Testifies on Opioid Crisis Before House Subcommittee
Outlines Policy Priorities for Treating Chronic Pain and Ending Epidemic of Opioid Abuse
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health about the nationwide opioid epidemic and the related problem of chronic pain.
“Pain is the number one reason why Americans seek health care, the number one cause of disability, and costs the U.S. economy more than $600 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “The veteran population is particularly impacted by the chronic pain crisis, with more than 50 percent of VA patients reporting chronic pain. We can reduce demand by more effectively treating chronic pain and providing better access to FDA-approved non-opioid pharmaceuticals, advanced medical devices, and integrated alternative therapies.”
At the hearing, Walorski outlined three policy priorities for addressing the related problems of opioid abuse and chronic pain: recognizing the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management; promoting cutting-edge research to encourage effective alternatives to opioids; and advancing best practices in pain management within Medicare.
Congress last year passed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, bipartisan legislation to address the nationwide opioid epidemic. Congresswoman Walorski served on the conference committee that negotiated the final bill, which included two provisions she authored. One requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to participate in state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), and the other allows the VA to use FDA-approved medical devices and other non-opioid therapies to treat chronic pain.
Walorski recently questioned Medicare’s top fraud prevention official at a Ways and Means Committee hearing about how safeguards failed to prevent a doctor in Indiana from prescribing more than $1 million in opioids to 108 patients under Medicare’s prescription drug program.
Video of Walorski testifying before the subcommittee is available here, and the text of her written testimony is below.
Thank you Chairman Burgess and Ranking Member Green for holding this hearing on the opioid crisis.
America is facing two inter-related public health epidemics: chronic pain and opioid addiction, misuse, and abuse. A long-term solution to the opioid epidemic will not be achieved without addressing the challenge of appropriately treating chronic pain.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Pain is the number one reason why Americans seek health care, the number one cause of disability, and costs the U.S. economy more than $600 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity. The veteran population is particularly impacted by the chronic pain crisis, with more than 50 percent of VA patients reporting chronic pain.
Thousands of lives are lost to both opioid-related overdose and chronic pain-related suicide. Furthermore, 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids. Reducing the supply of or access to opioids will not by itself solve this crisis. We can reduce demand by more effectively treating chronic pain and providing better access to FDA-approved non-opioid pharmaceuticals, advanced medical devices, and integrated alternative therapies.
As we look to develop policy, we should:
- Recognize the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management as a key component of overcoming the opioid crisis. Chronic pain is a pervasive and largely unaddressed public health crisis. Solving it is a crucial part of solving the larger opioid epidemic.
- Promote cutting-edge pain research to encourage effective opioid alternatives. High-quality evidence is urgently needed to help clinicians and patients make informed decisions about how to manage chronic pain safely and understand the causes and mechanisms of chronic pain.
- Advance best practices in pain management within Medicare. In 2016, one in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received a prescription opioid. The GAO should conduct a study of the coverage options offered within Medicare for evidence-based pain management as an alternative to opioid prescriptions. Also, there should be a review of the Graduate Medical Education program’s training and education of providers on pain management and opioid prescriptions.
I hope these ideas will be helpful for in future policy discussions to reduce the abuse of opioids in our communities. Thank you for the time, and I yield back.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.