June 23, 2015

Kaine Introduces Bipartisan VA Reform Legislation To Combat Opioid Overmedication

Legislation would provide VA with the tools it needs to address the problem of overprescribing and provide safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and 11 of their colleagues to introduce the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, bipartisan reform legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The bill, crafted in close consultation with medical professionals and veterans service organizations, focuses on strengthening the VA’s opioid prescribing guidelines and improving pain management services by putting new reforms in place. Joining Kaine and Baldwin are U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jon Tester (D-MT). 

“As I travel around Virginia, I hear from families, employers, and first responders about the harmful impacts of opioid abuse,” said Kaine.  “We need to embrace a comprehensive approach to fighting this epidemic, and one important step is to prevent the over-prescription of pain medication – including opioids. I’m particularly troubled by reports of opioid overmedication for our veterans who are struggling with pain management. This bipartisan bill would help ensure that there is more oversight and coordination among medical experts at VA facilities when prescribing pain medication, which can help prevent future tragedies.”

In the Senate, Kaine has worked to combat prescription opioid abuse and increase accountability at the VA. He recently introduced bipartisan legislation to protect first responders, health professionals and family members who are educated in administering an opioid overdose prevention drug in an emergency situation of overdose, as well as a bill that would hold the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accountable for the approval of new opioid drugs, ensuring experts’ voices are heard as new and potentially dangerous opioid medications are considered for approval. Kaine also supported an amendment that was included in the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that addressed concerns about overmedication among servicemembers by requiring the Secretary Of Defense to carry out a program of comprehensive medication management in military treatment facilities.  

In addition to improving opioid therapy and pain management, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act helps strengthen patient advocacy, expand access to complementary and integrative health and wellness, and enhance VA hiring and internal audits by: 

·         Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers including stricter standards against prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids with other drugs and for prescribing opioids to patients struggling with mental health issues;

·         Increasing coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families surrounding pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain, and appropriate opioid therapy; and

·         Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits as well as GAO reviews and reports to Congress.

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is supported by: Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Veterans for Common Sense, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), American Veterans (AMVETS), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Trust for America's Health (TFAH).

The legislation is named in honor of U.S. Marine Veteran Jason Simcakoski who died on August 30, 2014 at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wisconsin as a result of mixed drug toxicity. The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to help prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families.

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