December 23, 2014

Kaine Weighs In On National Strategy To Prevent Opioid Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined 20 of his colleagues to write a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell on the national strategy to address opioid abuse being developed by HHS. In the letter, Kaine and his colleagues urged HHS to focus on overdose education, access to substance abuse treatment services, and the distribution of naloxone, an antidote that stops the effects of an opioid overdose for a short period of time. Specifically, they encouraged HHS to expand surveillance and data collection around opioid abuse and include innovative ways to integrate naloxone into the health care delivery system.  

“Given our shared concern about the growing rate of overdose deaths associated with heroin and prescription painkillers, we urge HHS to ensure that overdose prevention, specifically through the use of naloxone and other similarly effective drugs, figures prominently in the 2015 National Drug Control Strategy, as well as the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal,” the Senators wrote. “Despite the life-saving capabilities of naloxone, its use in overdose prevention is not widespread.  A comprehensive plan for reducing overdose deaths should include adequate financial assistance for state and local governments, as well as community organizations, to purchase and distribute naloxone to first responders, law enforcement officials, medical facilities, and members of at-risk individuals’ communities.”  

This summer, Kaine participated in a Project REVIVE training session in Lebanon, where he and other participants learned how to administer naloxone. He also recently visited Richmond-based pharmaceutical company Kaléo, which received FDA approval for its new naloxone auto-injector delivery system  EVZIO™.  Kaine co-sponsored the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act bipartisan “Good Samaritan” legislation that would protect individuals from civil liability who prescribe naloxone.

In June, Kaine joined 11 members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation to call on Governor McAuliffe to establish a statewide task force to address the growing heroin epidemic in Virginia. Governor McAuliffe answered their call by forming a task force in September. Kaine has also raised concerns over drug abuse in Virginia with White House Drug Policy Acting Director Michael Botticelli and in a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, which focused on the recent FDA approval of Zohydro ER and how it could potentially heighten the public health risk of opioid abuse in Virginia.

 

Full text of the letter can be found below:

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

We commend the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its commitment to develop a multi-pronged national strategy aimed at preventing opioid abuse.  Given our shared concern about the growing rate of overdose deaths associated with heroin and prescription painkillers, we urge HHS to ensure that overdose prevention, specifically through the use of naloxone and other similarly effective drugs, figures prominently in the 2015 National Drug Control Strategy, as well as the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal.  We look forward to a strong focus on overdose education, naloxone distribution, and access to substance abuse treatment services and other follow-up care.

Despite the life-saving capabilities of naloxone, its use in overdose prevention is not widespread.  A comprehensive plan for reducing overdose deaths should include adequate financial assistance for state and local governments, as well as community organizations, to purchase and distribute naloxone to first responders, law enforcement officials, medical facilities, and members of at-risk individuals’ communities.   We know that expanding naloxone access to a broader population can reverse drug overdoses and save lives, particularly when accompanied by education and training in overdose prevention and naloxone use.   

In addition, we encourage HHS to expand surveillance and data collection around opioid abuse and best practices in the field.  Most programs at the federal level focus on prescription drug misuse, abuse, and diversion.   The national strategy HHS is developing should shift that focus to better understand how local efforts – and federal programs and policies – can prevent these unnecessary opioid overdose deaths and it is our hope that the FY2016 budget will support those efforts.       

The plan should also include innovative ways to integrate naloxone into the health care delivery system.  For example, HHS could establish best practices for co-prescribing naloxone with opioids for high-risk populations and ensure Medicaid coverage for all forms of naloxone.  Another component of the plan should address recent price increases for commonly used formulations of naloxone by seeking to secure stable and affordable supplies of the drug.

Moreover, HHS should implement measures that connect overdose survivors and others in need of treatment with broader systems of care.  While demand for services has grown dramatically, provider shortages, coverage barriers, and affordability prevent many from getting treatment.  Initial reforms could include removing government restrictions that prevent drug treatment centers with more than 16 beds from billing Medicaid for services provided to beneficiaries and issuing guidance to payers regarding policies for lengths of stay and treatment intensity at substance abuse treatment facilities and addressing policies that limit healthcare professionals from treating patients in need of medication assisted therapies for addiction.  While the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act ensures higher levels of coverage for these services, the law does not provide details on duration or intensity of treatment, resulting in variable and insufficient treatment policies across payers.

Too many Americans have been lost to opioid overdose. We look forward to your leadership in developing a strategy that provides resources to improve overdose education, naloxone distribution, and substance abuse treatment services.  We appreciate your consideration of these proposals and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Senator Tim Kaine

Senator Richard J. Durbin

Senator Jack Reed

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Barbara Boxer

Senator Robert Casey

Senator Ben Cardin

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Senator Bernard Sanders

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Al Franken

Senator Mark Udall

Senator Mark Warner

Senator Richard Blumenthal

Senator Cory Booker

Senator Edward Markey

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Mazie Hirono

 

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