The opioid epidemic claims the lives of roughly 174 Americans every day. Opioids have resulted in the deaths of more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars over the same time period.
Unfortunately, the news is worse for our veterans. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald stated, “Veterans are 10 times more likely to abuse opioids than the average American,” and this abuse is the leading cause of homelessness among veterans. In 2016, the VA treated 66,000 veterans for opioid addiction.
It is clear we are failing our nation’s heroes. That is unacceptable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one of the common risk factors for opioid addiction is obtaining overlapping prescriptions from multiple providers. As a doctor, I’m familiar with the tools already available to help combat the opioid epidemic, such as state-based Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
PDMPs ensure prescribing physicians have a clear picture of what controlled medications their patients are taking. That’s why almost every state has established some sort of database to monitor prescribing.
Since 2013, the Veterans Health Administration has cut its rate of prescribing these medications by about 41 percent. While this is welcome progress, a recent Government Accountability Office report found that VA providers don’t always check state databases.
I recently became chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, but this is an issue I’ve been working tirelessly to address since I was sworn in. Too many veterans are suffering from addiction and opioid abuse. As a doctor and a veteran, I have met heroes who need help, but aren’t finding it at the VA. We can change that.
Since the VA is the largest health care provider in the country, it is in a unique position to lead the initiative to prevent prescription opioid abuse, particularly among veterans.
That’s why I introduced the Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act – to ensure no veteran slips through the cracks. My bill increases opioid prescribing transparency at the VA and allows VA doctors to do what private sector physicians are already doing – access data from states nationwide to identify patterns of high opioid use that put patients at risk for addiction.
The act recently passed the House with bipartisan support and was also included as a provision in the VA MISSION Act, which was signed by President Trump. Sharing this information is just one step we can take to ensure the nine million veterans who receive their care through the VA benefit from the same safeguards as private sector patients.
I take my responsibility to serve those who fought for our freedoms seriously. We must do more to protect our veterans and I believe my Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act is a vital part of our efforts to fix health care at the VA.
Our work to honor and to care for our veterans will never end, because our debt of gratitude can never be repaid.