Lawmakers met to discuss the opioid crisis at Washington D.C.’s Newseum at an event sponsored by “The Hill” Wednesday, but had few tangible solutions to solve the ongoing epidemic.
Guests included Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Republican Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Each offered their own personal take on how to solve the problem of prescription drug abuse, while taking questions from the audience.
Whithouse advocated for changing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) laws to weaken privacy provisions, in order to alert family members of a relative’s overdoses.
“We are still struggling with the question of how you let family members and loved ones know when somebody comes in. The bad side of the HIPPA rules is that a parent doesn’t know that their 24-year-old son has been in three times. Overdosed. And by the time the fourth happens and it’s fatal, they haven’t had a chance to engage,” Whitehouse said. “We’re working around that. Trying to get it into electronic health records and get people to waiver it so they’ve got somebody who loves and cares about them who can do that. But I don’t think we’ve got that one nailed yet. We’re working on it.”
Joyce was asked if Congress has discussed the issue of benzodiazepine and sleeping pill abuse, but said lawmakers have only focused on pain medication and haven’t explored other medications. He did, however, slam big pharma for constantly pushing their products on television.
“It’s a lot of issues on both ends of this deal,” Joyce replied. “First we’re starting off with this [opioids] because it’s the most critical one. But the one thing that I can’t understand is how big pharma advertises on TV. They claim they need money for research then I see them wasting a hell of a lot of money on ads all the time. You know what they are. You see them when you’re working out during the day, watching TV. It’s something that, they need to be held accountable.”
“They made a lot of money off this. And they know how much they were pushing out there,” he added. “You give me couple prosecutors and you give me a grand jury and we’ll find people to be held accountable because you cannot say you didn’t know.”
Dr. Adams said it is important for health care providers to strike a balance between over prescribing and neglecting their patients, while also stressing the importance of involving local community leaders in the fight against addiction.
“We need to recognize treatment is for life. It has to be,” Adams said. “We also have to recognize that there are a lot of people with legitimate chronic pain out there.”
“When you talk about thinking outside the box, we’ve got to think outside the silo,” he concluded. “We’ve got to invite partners who normally wouldn’t be at the table.”
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