Spotlight on Opiate Abuse: ‘I Want Every Family in Virginia Talking About It Now’

The U.S. Senate came to Loudoun on Monday to hear testimony on the epidemic abuse of opiate medication.

The inquiry took the form of a field hearing of the Select Committee on Aging, which was represented by one of its 20 members, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

The hearing was part of a broader effort to address the rapid increase in the number of fatal overdoes resulting from opiate and heroin abuse.

“It’s an issue of passion for me,” Kaine said, noting the problem has hit every corner of the commonwealth, all age groups, all races and every economic class. The problem, he said, “begins in our medicine cabinets.”

Potent and highly addictive painkillers, ranging from Vicodin to OxyContin, originally designed for short-term relief and palliative care for cancer patients, have come to be prescribed—and overprescribed—as part of routine care, he said.

Four out of every five heroin overdoses are linked to prior opioid use; and increasingly opiate overdoses are becoming a concern for older Americans, with the 55-64 age group now the fastest growing segment for prescription medication overdoses.

The solution? “It is going to take a big culture shift,” Kaine said.

To examine the issue, Kaine assembled a panel ranging from Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) to Lisa Wilkins, a Berryville resident who lost her son, Chip, to an overdose in 2011.

Herring said he learned of the scope of the opiate abuse in Virginia as he toured the state shortly after taking office.Attorney General Mark Herring

“I join you in sounding the alarm about the heroin and prescription drug crisis, and I want every family in Virginia talking about it now—not once there is already a problem, and God-forbid not after a loved one is lost,” Herring said in his testimony. “We have to start now, because I’ve heard from so many heartbroken parents who have lost a child, and so many devastated families who have lost a loved one, and they all say ‘I never thought this could happen to my family.’”

Senate hearingBoth of Wilkins’ sons battled with addiction that grew out of being prescribed opioid medication—one following a car crash and another following a dog bite. And her mother was prescribed opiates for her chronic pain.

She told Kaine that doctors need to work more closely with families to make sure they understand how to use the medication. “We got no information about how dangerous those drugs were,” she said. “We got 30 or 60 pills in a bottle.”

Three other panelists were experts in the field.

Mellie Randall is the director of the state’s Office of Substance Abuse Services. Dr. Katherine Neuhausen is an assistant professor of Family Medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University. Jane Terry is director of government affairs at the National Safety Counsel.

They universally supported one of Kaine’s initiatives now working through Congress. The Co-Prescribing Saves Lives Act, which would expand the availability of naloxone to those prescribed opioid medication and to the family of addicts. Naloxone—now being carried by trained Loudoun deputies as well as fire-rescue workers—can quickly reverse the effects of an accidental overdose. Residents can easily learn how to administer the life-saving drug, they said, noting that Kaine underwent the training last year.

The experts also advocated more physician education on the addictive qualities of the medication, new guidelines that would curb incidences of over-prescribing, and greater access to and funding for addiction treatment centers.Sen. Tim Kaine

Also highlighted was the need for physicians to make greater use of the state’s prescription drug monitoring database that can help identify patients who try to secure prescriptions from multiple doctors. Making that happen may require an investment in the system so that the data flows automatically into patients’ electronic health records.

They also noted the importance of drug take-back programs during which authorities allow residents to drop off unused medication for safe disposal—getting the potentially dangerous drugs out of their medicine cabinets.

Responding to a question from Kaine, Neuhausen said that not since soldiers returned from World War II hooked on morphine had a medicine turned into such a large scale health crisis. She said the rapid growth of the problem was comparable to that of the HIV epidemic.

One thought on “Spotlight on Opiate Abuse: ‘I Want Every Family in Virginia Talking About It Now’

  • 2016-02-02 at 6:18 pm

    Amazing that Kaine will allow fetuses to be flushed down toilets like toilet paper and he is worried about a small percentage of the population that becomes addicted to pills. He supports dope and is concerned about a huge percentage of the population that is riddled with chronic pain. Realizing I got nailed by someone running a red light at higher that full speed, have had multiple surgeries, go to legitimate doctors, etc. I can’t get anyone to prescribe me any narcotics due to concerns related with the DEA, which is utterly saddening. I know that SW Virginia and many parts of this country and ravaged by drug addicts who resale their drugs and are as prevalent as snow is deep right now, but it is readily apparent that Kaine has never, ever dealt with chronic pain and would rather buy into the fact that the government must save us because we can never control ourselves based on the negative actions of a few versus the positive actions of the drugs on many. I would need injections in about 10 locations to even begin to minimize the pain, but Obamacare put a stranglehold on that and nearly everything is regulated beyond oblivion. At this point, I am probably better off trying to hit the illegal market, but that’s not what I’m about, so I am stuck to cope. Until you are in my shoes, you will never understand, and Kaine will never understand, he just wants to sick his dogs on us even more. Heck, I can’t even get my allergy pills without going through heck because of some limited meth freaks out there. They are pretty easy to spot and when they enter your store it is either to buy a case of pills or with a shotgun. I can buy 15 tiny pills at once, which cost over a buck each and is not cost effective or inconvenient. Whoever came up with the 15 pill rule really needs to be tied to a tree and be dealt with because they obviously don’t have allergies. Kaine wants to regulate everything he can, be in our homes, lives, everywhere as that’s all he knows. FYI… I came in one day too early to buy my allergy pills and they pinged me…. They have many ways to quash the actual addicts from abusing the system, penalizing the truly bad doctors and have the checks and balances in place. It’s already there as in the case of my allergy tablets. It applies to all other medicines at Walgreens, CVS, etc. as you can’t get your refills too early as the database is smart. They need to deal with corrupt doctors and drug addicts who were probably some form of drug addict prior to opiates.

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