February 01, 2016

In Leesburg, Kaine Discusses Impacts Of Opioid Epidemic Among Older Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a field hearing in Loudoun County to examine the ongoing fight against opioid misuse and abuse among older Americans. In the past, Kaine has met with families, law enforcement and business leaders across Virginia to discuss the harmful impacts of opioid abuse on communities in the Commonwealth.

"This is an issue of passion for me because it's an issue that affects every last zip code and region of Virginia," said Kaine. "I have had meetings about opioid addiction in Southwest Virginia, in Winchester, Richmond and now here in Leesburg. All across the nation we are seeing a scourge of prescription drug abuse and heroin use. While many assume the crisis centers on young people, this is a problem that is beginning to have a very particular and dramatic impact on older Americans - one that largely begins in their medicine cabinets. It often starts with getting a prescription for a standard medical problem related to pain management. In 2013, more than 12,000 baby boomers died of accidental drug overdoses - more than the number that died in car accidents. And the fastest increase in rate of prescription overdose deaths is among Americans between the ages of 55-64."

“In my office, we are coming at the problem with a multifaceted strategy that includes prosecutions and enforcement, as well as legislative solutions, prevention, and education,” said Attorney-General Mark Herring. “In the last year and a half we have worked with our local and federal partners to prosecute more than 28 cases against dealers and traffickers involving more than 95 kilograms of heroin with an estimated street value of more than $19 million. That’s about 238,500 daily doses. We have also launched a number of prevention and education initiatives to make sure everyone—young people, parents, adults, even seniors—understand just how dangerous these drugs can be.”

“With over 259 million opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. as recently as 2012, these drugs are filling our communities, workplaces, schools and medicine cabinets – making them widely available for misuse,” said Lisa Wilkins, acting State Director of Virginia Change Addiction Now. “According to some studies, the age group with the fastest rate of overdose deaths due to prescription opioids is 55-64 years old. According to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Medicaid patients are two times more likely to be prescribed opioids and six times more likely to suffer fatal overdose deaths. These populations are often overlooked as medical practitioners, clinicians and policymakers pursue strategies to address the opioid addiction and mortality crisis. This must change.”

Kaine recently introduced the bipartisan Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act, a bill that would encourage physicians to co-prescribe the life-saving drug Naloxone alongside opioid prescriptions and would make Naloxone more widely available in federal health settings. Kaine has also introduced the bipartisan Stopping Medication Abuse and Protecting Seniors Act to prevent inappropriate access to opioids and improve patient care for at-risk beneficiaries.  In 2014, more Virginians died from opioid overdoses than vehicle crashes. Nationwide, heroin and opioids account for approximately 25,000 American deaths per year. Naloxone has reversed more than 26,000 overdose cases between 1996 and 2014.

“While there are legitimate needs for strong pain medications, co-prescribing naloxone can reduce the possibility of accidental overdose by the patient, who may accidentally take too much medication or who takes a combination of medications that make the effects of the pain medication stronger than intended,” said Mellie Randall, Director of the Office of Substance Abuse Services. “Naloxone can also reduce accidental overdose that result from curious children confusing brightly colored pills with candy, or risk-taking adolescents who impulsively experiment with their family member’s medicine. Senator Kaine’s legislation also supports prescribers training in appropriate guidelines for the use of opioid pain medications, pain management, identification of addiction, referral to treatment and proper methods of disposal.”

Witnesses at Monday’s hearing included The Honorable Mark Herring, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Katherine Neuhausen, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Virginia Commonwealth University; Lisa Wilkins, Acting State Director, Virginia Change Addiction Now; Jane Terry, Director of Government Affairs, National Safety Council; and Mellie Randall, Director of the Office of Substance Abuse Services, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

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