Prescription drug overdose is focus of congressional briefing

The American Psychological Association (APA) hosted a congressional briefing on prescription drug overdose on April 3, 2014, in collaboration with the Injury and Violence Prevention Network, American College of Preventive Medicine, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Safe States Alliance, and Trust for America's Health, as well as the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.

12/21/20222 min read

The briefing covered the scale of the problem, the federal response to the crisis, and the state-level intervention initiatives that have been undertaken. Over 80 congressional staffers, as well as officials from different federal agencies, professional associations, and advocacy groups, were in attendance.

Richard Hamburg, the deputy director of Trust for America's Health (TFAH), gave the opening remarks, citing findings from a 2013 TFAH report showing that between 1999 and 2010, the number of drug overdose deaths, which are largely due to prescription drugs, doubled in 29 states, tripled in ten states, and quadrupled in four states, with the highest overdose death rates occurring in the Appalachian and Southwest regions. Improved prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), access to resources for persons suffering with misuse and addiction difficulties, safe prescribing practices, and better public education were also recommended in the report.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., cofounder of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse and well-known for his work on the issue, described how drug overdose deaths in the United States now surpass those killed in car accidents. He argued for a comprehensive, coordinated, and holistic approach, such as Kentucky's Operation UNITE, which includes undercover officers to remove drugs off the streets, therapy for individuals and assistance for their family and friends, and public education on the hazards of prescription medicines.

Patients receiving opioids from multiple prescribers and providers engaging in inappropriate prescribing practices are two major factors driving the opioid abuse epidemic, according to Ileana Arias, PhD, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a clinical psychologist (e.g., regularly writing prescriptions for high daily doses of opioids). She advocated for state-mandated, uniform PDMPs that employ real-time data, which would be required of clinicians and connected into electronic health records. She described how mandatory PDMPs in New York State resulted in a 10% reduction in opioid prescriptions and a 75% reduction in those receiving multiple prescriptions.

Overdose deaths are "just the tip of the iceberg," according to Terry Cline, PhD, Oklahoma's Commissioner of Health and a clinical psychologist, who claims that for every death, there are many more hospital admissions, emergency room visits, people who abuse or are dependent on prescription drugs, and nonmedical users. As a result, his state is one of 27 to accept the "15 x 15 Challenge" from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which aims to reduce prescription drug usage and mortality by 15% by 2015. Improved access to PDMP data, opioid prescribing standards, allowing first responders to give naloxone (which blocks the effects of opioids in the case of an overdose), limiting hydrocodone refills, and a governor-led public awareness campaign were all part of Oklahoma's plan.

Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and a former Kentucky chief of police, spoke about Kentucky state legislative efforts to combat the problem, and Mary Bono, the cofounder of the aforementioned Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, told a personal story about her son's struggle with OxyContin addiction.