During a federal budget hearing for the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) fiscal year 2017 proposal, Congressman Hal Rogers asked national healthcare leaders how we can do more to save lives from prescription drug and heroin overdoses, despite an oversupply of opioids across the nation.
"We lose 100 Americans a day from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin," said Rogers, who serves as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "As you know over 250 million prescriptions are written each year for opioids, many of which need not be written. These drugs have become a default solution for any pain, rather than the severe pain for which they were intended."
Rogers asked NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, and Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about efforts to evaluate the risks associated with the long-term use of opioids and NIH-sponsored research on abuse-deterrent medications and non-opioid alternatives to pain management.
Dr. Volkow said a pain consortium is working to recommend better pain management practices, from developing more abuse-deterrent opioids to examining research for behavioral and cognitive interventions that can improve the outcomes in patients suffering from chronic pain.
"Current prescription practices of opioids cannot continue the way they are doing right now - it's unacceptable," said Dr. Volkow. "Education in the healthcare system, also in the public, along with guidelines, like that of the [Centers for Disease Control] CDC, will facilitate the changing of practices of how we prescribe medications for the management of chronic pain, while at the same time, providing adequate care for those suffering from chronic pain, which can be very devastating."
On Tuesday, the CDC announced new prescribing guidelines for opioids. There are 12 recommendations that essentially guide doctors to avoid using powerful opioids as the first line of defense against pain, saying the risks from such drugs far outweigh the benefits for most people. With respect to the dosage, CDC recommends to "start low and go slow.”
Rogers also asked Dr. Collins about the importance of insurance coverage for prescription painkillers that are harder to abuse.
"One of the problems is that doctors are not widely prescribing these abuse-deterrent medications," said Rogers. "Some states, including my home state of Kentucky, are pursuing legislation to ensure that insurance companies cover these drugs - even though they may be more expensive."
Both Dr. Collins and Dr. Volkow advocated for more incentives to develop and prescribe abuse deterrent formulas for highly abused opioids.
They will both serve as keynote speakers at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia on March 28-31, 2016. At the event, Rogers will lead a Congressional Forum with five of his colleagues, highlighting the work of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, of which he is the co-founder and co-chair.
Click here to watch the full FY17 budget hearing for NIH.