WASHINGTON, DC – Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) held a roundtable in his district yesterday to discuss the opioid crisis and current efforts to combat it. Joining the chairman was Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Chairman Walden highlighted the House’s recent passage of H.R. 6, critical legislation to aid in this collective fight. Commissioner Gottlieb provided an update on efforts by the FDA to strike the right balance in opioid prescriptions.
In speaking about the threat of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, Commissioner Gottlieb spoke about efforts to prevent its entry into the U.S.
The Bend Bulletin reports, “The agency has received new authority and funding to ramp up efforts to intercept illicit substances and unapproved drugs coming into the U.S. by mail. Gottlieb said more than 800 million packages were mailed to the U.S. last year, and this year, the number could exceed 1 trillion. That provides a gap through which illicit substances such as fentanyl can be shipped into the U.S. ‘What we’re trying to do,’ he said, ‘is plug those gaps.’”
Chairman Walden also spoke about three letters sent last week by bipartisan committee leaders, pressing opioid manufacturers about their potential role in the opioid crisis.
“Did they know they were addictive? How did they market them? So we’re delving very deeply into that effort,” explained Chairman Walden.
FDA seeks to tailor length of opioid prescriptions to patient conditions
The Food and Drug Administration is developing new opioid prescribing guidelines that would tailor the duration of the prescriptions to specific patient conditions.
Speaking at a provider roundtable with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, on Tuesday in Bend, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the agency was working with provider groups and the National Academy of Medicine to determine what amount of prescription pain medication would be appropriate after various surgeries and procedures, instead of relying on the current one-size-fits-all approach.
The commissioner said the guidelines will focus initially on acute care conditions where overprescribing has been rampant. Agency data suggests that patients often need opioids for only one or two days after laparoscopic gallbladder or hernia surgeries, but may need pain killers for a week or more after a heart bypass or orthopedic procedures.
Gottlieb is also leading a joint effort with cancer groups to develop better guidelines for opioid use to treat cancer pain, but the agency will not be looking at new guidelines for chronic pain conditions at this time.
The wide-ranging discussion with local Central Oregon health officials, held at the Oregon State University, Cascades campus, touched on a number of opioid-related topics.
Walden touted the 57 separate opioid measures passed by the House Energy and Commerce committee he chairs and rolled into H.R. 6, passed by the House in June. Senate leaders are now working on their own version of the opioid bill, which will then have to be reconciled with the House version.
“Hopefully, in September, we hope to get it on the president’s desk,” Walden said. “I don’t anticipate major changes.”
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Walden holds Bend roundtable on opioid epidemic
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held a roundtable Tuesday morning in Bend with law enforcement and medical professionals to discuss the opioid abuse crisis and ways to tackle the problem.
Doctors from Mosaic Medical expressed an interest in expanding prescription drug “take-back” programs across the state, drawing nods of agreement from Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson and Bend Police Chief Jim Porter.
Another concern expressed at the session was the rising price of Narcan (naloxone), the antidote for drug overdoses used by law enforcement and others. Those placing orders for small clinics said they are paying almost double their previous prices.
Porter offered up some better news: Since the department and sheriff’s office equipped officers with Narcan and drug-testing equipment in June of 2016, officers have saved 22 people from overdoses.
Meanwhile, health officials said more funding is needed for local clean-needle exchange programs and effective outreach for them.
Walden has sponsored or led the effort to pass dozens of bills related to opioid abuse and treatment in recent months on Capitol Hill.
Walden said he’s working with senators now to get the bundle of bills passed and on to the president’s desk.
“We’re now focused on those who made the drugs,” he said. “Did they know they were addictive? How did they market them? So we’re delving very deeply into that effort.”
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