Lawmakers introduce bill to examine opioid use in veterans

Lawmakers introduce bill to examine opioid use in veterans
© Greg Nash

Reps. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) and Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyLawmakers introduce bill to examine opioid use in veterans House GOP campaign arm expands target list after brutal night for Dems House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Conn.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would direct the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to examine veteran opioid overdose deaths in the past five years.

The bill, dubbed the "Veteran Heroin Overdose Prevention Act," or "HOPE Act," is specifically looking for a review that examines both prescribed and non-prescribed opiate abuse and other contributing factors that may lead veterans to overdose.

Additionally, it directs the VA to explain what efforts are taken at the federal level to tackle the opioid crisis, including tracking, collecting and throwing away unused prescriptions.

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The review must be started no more than 18 months after the bill is enacted, according to the draft bill text.

The lawmakers have also requested that the VA publish a set of recommendations that aim to “improve the safety and well-being of veterans," according to a statement from Murphy.

Murphy, who was a practicing physician for more than 30 years, said available data illustrates that veterans are largely impacted by the opioid crisis, especially those under the care of the VA.

“All of the data available suggests that veterans are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic – and shockingly, veterans who are being treated by the VA are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with an opioid abuse disorder than commercially insured patients,” Murphy said in a statement, referencing statistics from the VA.

He also noted that according to a team from the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, the veteran opioid death rate increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2016, numbers that he called “devastating and deeply alarming.”

In a "Dear Colleague" letter requesting support for the HOPE Act, Murphy said the legislation will “help to better understand this crisis and its insidious impacts, and it will extend veterans overdose prevention efforts and research beyond just patients actively receiving opioid prescriptions.”

“Our veterans, their families, their friends, and their communities all deserve better, and we simply must do more to help properly research where the deadly addictions start,” he added.

Courtney, in a statement, said that despite actions taken by the VA, opioid overdoses among veterans continue to increase, which is why the review set forth in the HOPE Act is necessary.

“Even though the VA has made efforts to reduce the number of opioids prescribed, rates of opioid overdose deaths continue to rise among veterans. The Veteran HOPE Act will dedicate resources to investigating overdose deaths among veterans, and use VA records to better understand risk factors to help prevent lethal overdoses among those who have served our country,” he said.

Politico first reported on the bill.