June 22, 2015

Manchin Cosponsers Bill To Address VA Overprescribing Practices

Legislation will reform the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) opioid prescribing guidelines and improve pain management services

Washington, D.C. – As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) cosponsored the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Actto address problematic overprescribing practices and provide safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans. The bipartisan legislation puts reforms in place to improve opioid therapy and pain management. It also implements education training, increases safety measures, improves patient advocacy, expands the availability of complementary and integrative health treatments and enhances VA hiring and internal audits.

U.S. Marine Veteran Jason Simcakoski died as a result of mixed drug toxicity on August 30, 2014 at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This legislation aims to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families.

“We have a responsibility to our veterans to provide safe and effective pain management services and end the scourge of prescription drug addiction that too often overcomes them,” Senator Manchin said. “More than half a million VA patients are abusing opioids and VA patients overdose on prescription pain medication double the national average. While the VA has implemented programs to reduce opioid prescriptions and instituted some safety measures, it is obvious that more needs to be done. This commonsense legislation will target opioid overprescribing practices by holding the VA accountable, requiring alternative treatment options and providing consumer and medical education. These reforms are an important step in curbing the VA’s reliance on opioids, especially in West Virginia, where we have one of the country’s highest per capita rates of veterans and also the country’s highest overdose rate.”

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act focuses on strengthening the VA’s opioid prescribing guidelines and improving pain management services by putting the following reforms in place:

  • Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers including stricter standards against prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids with other drugs and for prescribing opioids to patients struggling with mental health issues;

  • Increasing coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families surrounding pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain, and appropriate opioid therapy; and
  • Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits as well as GAO reviews and reports to Congress.

This legislation was also introduced by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is supported by: Disabled American Veterans Wisconsin, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Veterans for Common Sense, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), American Veterans (AMVETS), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Trust for America's Health (TFAH).

At a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on June 3rd, Senator Manchin questioned officials on opioid abuse among veterans and VA overprescribing practices. To watch a video from the hearing, please click here.

To review a one-pager of the bill, please click here.