A Florida congressman is taking a step towards helping American veterans fight back against opioid abuse.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., introduced the Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act to combat a growing issue for some of the country’s most heroic citizens.
Opioids have become an unprecedented problem in America, but one group in particular -- veterans, many home from war -- are significantly more susceptible to falling victim to the deadly opioid epidemic.
Dunn’s bill would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin to connect VA doctors and health care providers to a national network of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) which track prescribing data for patients prescribed drugs like oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone to relieve pain.
The PDMPs identify and alert of abuse patterns in patients, a key step to stopping widespread abuse of the drugs, which are dangerous in part because of their highly addictive properties.
VA doctors consult the state-based PDMPs before prescribing opioids to veterans, some of whom have suffered injuries while fighting wars overseas.
VA doctors currently don’t have the ability to consult a national network of state-based PDMPs, which means patients could potentially hop from state to state filling prescriptions without being detected.
Part of the PDMPs’ shortcomings, according to President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, is the lack of cross-state interoperability. The Commission recommended “enhancing” interstate data sharing among PDMPs to help identify at-risk patients and lessen the potential for drug abuse.
Dunn, a doctor, Army veteran and a member of the House VA Committee, called the ongoing crisis “unacceptable.”
“More than 140 people in the U.S. die from opioid abuse each day, and veterans are twice as likely than civilians,” said Dr. Dunn. “This bill instructs the VA to do what more and more private doctors are doing – connect to the national drug monitoring databases so no one slips through the cracks.”
Opioid abuse has made headlines in recent months due to a skyrocketing number of overdoses nationwide.
According to CDC estimates, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled since 1999, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled in that time.
Ninety-one people die each day from overdosing on opioids like oxycodone and heroin.
“We cannot stand silent and watch prescription opioid abuse destroy the lives of those who fought for our freedoms,” Dunn said.
The legislation currently has four cosponsors: U.S. Reps. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.